IT was a moment when South Africans - embroiled in the day-to-day turmoil of transition - could stand back and look at themselves in the mirror provided by an ecstatic world community determined to savor a rare moment of global triumph.
The inauguration of President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela served as one of those unusual events that reaffirms the unity of mankind and celebrates the limitless potential of humanity.
``Today, all of us do, by our presence here and by our celebrations in other parts of our country and the world, confer glory and hope to newborn liberty,'' President Mandela said, moments after taking the oath of office.
United States Vice President Al Gore, Jr., who is leading a 65-member-strong delegation to the inauguration, captured the moment shortly after his arrival in the country on May 9:
``I find it difficult to put into words the feelings all of us have as we come here representing the United States of America at such a historic moment for South Africa and for all mankind.''
``The history we are present to witness marks a transition in the history of the world,'' Mr. Gore said.
The birth of the new South Africa has been called a miracle. It certainly has all the ingredients of a fairy tale. And the whole world is here to revel in it.
More than 60 Presidents, delegations from 150 countries, a dozen kings and princes, and thousands of dignitaries packed the sandstone amphitheater of the majestic Union Buildings to witness one of the seminal events of the second-half of the 20th century.
An estimated 1 billion people worldwide watched the event live on television.
After decades of apartheid isolation, it is now South Africa's turn to contribute to the resolution of the problems of our time: the revival of ethnicity, poverty, and the north/south divide; and how to mold cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity into one nation.
``We see this inauguration as the beginning of a partnership between our two countries that has the potential ... to export the lessons of democracy, market economics, harmony, and brotherhood to other parts of Africa and to other parts of our world,'' said Gore, who was accompanied by his wife Tipper Gore and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The contribution that South Africa can make to world peace was symbolized on May 9 when Mandela hosted the first-ever meeting between Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat and President of Israel Ezer Weizman.
President Weizman said, after the meeting here, that he hoped things would run as smoothly in Israel as they had in South Africa.
``The recent elections, and now the inauguration of Mr. Mandela, ... brought about one of the most important changes in the history of the world,'' he said.
South Africans are discovering that the transformation of their country is an event of the same magnitude as the collapse of the Berlin Wall in Germany four years ago, and that Nelson Mandela is one of the greatest statesmen of the century - on a par with Mahatma Gandhi.
As he stood on the presidential podium and held his right hand to his heart for the playing of the two national anthems, Mandela was the embodiment of humility and true greatness.
There was a quality of saintly compassion in his smile as he said:
``We feel fulfilled that humanity has taken us back into its bosom and that we, who were outlaws not so long ago, have today been given the rare privilege to be host to the nations of the world on our own soil.''