A party, a prayer and a song

2004-04-27 16:34
Pretoria - President Thabo Mbeki was welcomed into office on Tuesday with hymns and drums, a military parade and multi-faith prayers, celebrating South Africa's diversity and the advances it has made in throwing off the shackles of apartheid.

Amid a riot of colour and pageantry, Mbeki took the oath of office for a second and final term at the stunningly beautiful Union Buildings in Pretoria, set atop a hillock, where tens of thousands gathered to witness a high point in history.

The inauguration coincided with celebrations marking 10 years since the demise of apartheid.

The mood was festive and tinged with a maturity that was not there ten years ago when Nelson Mandela took over as the country's first black president.

Joyce Seroke, chairperson of the Commission on Gender Equality, was one of the select guests, including 45 heads of state and government, watching Mbeki take the oath of office after leading the African National Congress to its biggest victory in 10 years in polls held April 14.

"We are elated. This is different from 1994 because then there was just euphoria. But this time round it was the first time that people voted because they believe their vote can improve the country and they can make the government more accountable," she said.

The inauguration ceremony started with celebratory songs and a film on the apartheid struggle shown on giant television screens that opened with black-and-white footage of race riots and protesters holding up banners that read "Freedom in my lifetime."

It then showed the 1990 release of apartheid icon Nelson Mandela from prison and the return of ANC heavyweight Oliver Tambo from exile.

The guests were on two levels - the select few in the amphitheatre and tens of thousands gathered on the lower lawns of the Union Buildings.

Although many of the dignitaries got rousing welcomes - including Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Fifa football federation boss Joseph Blatter and Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila - it was Mandela who stole the spotlight.

When the 85-year-old former president arrived, the assembled guests gave him a sustained standing ovation.

A choir broke into an impromptu rendition of a song in the Sotho language which went: "Nelson Mandela, there is nobody like you."

Mbeki, who arrived with his wife Zanele, stood on the podium as he was greeted by a Zulu praise singer and ululations from the crowd.

The inauguration ceremony opened with prayers from several faiths including a reading in Arabic from the Koran and a recitation from a traditional faith healer followed by a 21-gun salute and a stunning fly-past and show of aerial aerobatics.

Jonas Gwangwa, a renowned jazz musician who spent 30 years in exile during apartheid, wrote a song especially for Mbeki's inauguration which was played at the ceremony.

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