R90m 'party for the people'

2004-04-25 21:57
Pretoria - South Africans are celebrating their first decade of freedom with the pageantry of a presidential inauguration and a multi-million-dollar bash showcasing the country's success in casting off the legacy of apartheid.

Ten years after Nelson Mandela took the oath of office before a coterie of world leaders in the amphitheatre of Pretoria's Union Buildings, South Africans return to the venue on Tuesday for the inauguration of Thabo Mbeki to a second presidential term.

From the buildings' surrounding green lawns, some 40 000 people will follow Mbeki's inauguration on seven big screens before experiencing the "real party" at a mass outdoor concert on a large stage.

"It's going to be one of the largest celebration parties and inaugurations we have ever seen in the history of South Africa," project manager Carl Niehaus, who has been planning the event since September, told AFP.

Mandela and South Africa's last white president, FW de Klerk, will attend the inauguration along with some 40 presidents, mainly from African states, and about 80 representatives of foreign governments.

The big bash comes two weeks after South Africans cast their ballots in the third democratic elections since apartheid officially ended on April 27, 1994.

The ANC won nearly 70% of the vote in the April 14 elections, its largest victory in a decade of power.

Mbeki, who was re-elected to the presidency by parliament on Friday, will receive a glittering inauguration for his second and last five-year term with choirs, a brass band, drummers, praise singers, a military parade and a fly-past of civilian and military aircraft welcoming him into office.

Niehaus said the event cost around R90m but it would be worth every cent.

"I think the international community's attention is focused on South Africa and we've had a stunning election.

"It's a unique opportunity for us to project the image of South Africa, to project the message about how well and how positive things have been going in the country in the last ten years."

Once the inauguration is finished, an hour-long play depicting South Africa's successes since the end of apartheid will be presented.

The retrospective will include sports victories such as the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament in 1996 and the Rugby World Cup in 1995 which both black and white celebrated by dancing together in the streets.

"We are not saying we have achieved it all but Mbeki has a clear vision about the lives of South Africans, and South Africa is the epicentre for change in all of Africa," the show's producer Mbongeni Ngema was quoted as saying in The Star on Saturday.

South African artists will then take center stage at an outdoor concert and later at a gala event held for VIPs at the state theatre.

"We have taken a decision that because it's the 10th anniversary celebrations and the inauguration of our president that we are just using South African artists," said Niehaus, who named a string of popular performers taking part, including Miriam Makeba, Sibongile Khumalo and Vusi Mahlasela.

Organiser Joe Chakela said the concert was rehearsed at the weekend and promised to be a vibrant display of South Africa's talent.

"We will have two bands playing for the cream of South African musicians. It will be the real party, the party for the people. It's going to be fantastic.

"It will mean so much. I was a victim of apartheid and the 27th of April 1994 for me was a big day and this is equally big. I am so happy and proud to be part of it," Chakela said.

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