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Nelson Mandela was sworn in as South Africa's first black president Tuesday in a joyous celebration ending the agony of apartheid and marking the country's return to the world community. "Let freedom reign!" he proclaimed.

Completing his transformation from political prisoner to president of Africa's richest country, Mandela eagerly began his oath of office even before the chief justice asked him. (See oath at right.)"I do hereby swear to be faithful to the Republic of South Africa," he declared, standing on an outdoor podium enclosed in seven tons of bulletproof glass. Shouts of "Viva!" rang out from the crowd, which included heads of state and heroes of the liberation struggle.

Mandela took over from F.W. de Klerk, who dismantled apartheid, the harsh racial separation system his National Party codified four decades ago. Mandela's African National Congress won a landslide victory last month in the country's first election to include the black majority.

In his inaugural speech, the 75-year-old president called apartheid "an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too, too long."

"We shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity - a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world," Mandela vowed.

"Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world."

The new 400-member multiracial parliament chose him president, unopposed, at its first session Monday.

Moments before Mandela's swearing-in, de Klerk and ANC national chairman Thabo Mbeki took oaths of office as deputy presidents in a government of national unity.

The inauguration finished with a thunderous cannon salute, warplanes trailing smoke in the new national colors of red, white, blue, black, green and gold, and helicopters carrying the redesigned flag. The president, estranged from his wife, Winnie, held the hand of his daughter, Zenani Dlamini, as he left.

Mandela walked among the 50,000 ordinary South Africans who had watched the ceremony on giant TV screens on the lawns below. He waved, moved to the music and thanked them for their struggle.

"It has been costly in human lives but let us forget the past," he said. "Now we have won. We are now busy healing the wounds of the past and it is for you to support us in that task."

Mandela has vowed to provide housing, jobs, education and health care to the millions of blacks impoverished under white rule. He must also end the political violence that has killed more than 11,000 people since 1990.

If he keeps enough of his promises to satisfy blacks, and maintains economic prosperity to assuage whites, Mandela's five-year term will be seen as a near miracle in a continent filled with black-ruled nations struggling to overcome the effects of colonialism.

Mandela has warned constituents it will take time to undo the inequities of a system that deprived the nation's 30 million blacks of the right to vote, to own property in most of the country and to travel freely.

But during a ceremony as ethnically diverse as the country Mandela was chosen to lead, the future seemed bright. Black women in lustrous turbans, black men in flowing African robes, Indians in silk saris and whites in wide-brimmed pastel hats created a colorful palette where once only white men in dark suits held court.

Representatives of more than 200 governments and organizations, who five years ago would either have been barred from visiting or would not have considered it, were invited.

Also in the audience were U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat and Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Major names in the worldwide fight against apartheid, including Archbishop Trevor Huddleston of Britain and South Africa's Nobel laureate author, Nadine Gordimer, also attended.


Oath of office

In the presence of those assembled here, and in full realization of the high calling I assume as president in the service of the Republic of South Africa, I, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, do hereby swear to be faithful to the Republic of South Africa, and do solemnly and sincerely promise at all times to promote that which will advance and to oppose all that may harm the republic; to obey, observe, uphold and maintain the Constitution and all other laws of the republic; to discharge my duties with all my strength and talents to the best of my knowledge and ability and true to the dictates of my conscience, to do justice to all, and to devote myself to the well-being of the republic and all its people. So help me God.


NOTE: This excerpt from Mandela's inaugural speech was not published in The Deseret News but is here at an editor's request.

Nelson Mandela's Inaugural Speech 1994 - excerpt

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.