In Soweto, crowds danced and sang in the streets and let off hundreds of fire crackers; in central Johannesburg black revellers grasped the hands of whites and declared them to be 'brothers' in the new South Africa.
Earlier, President F W De Klerk graciously conceded defeat, despite the fact that more than half the votes in last week's elections remained to be counted. According to the latest projections, the ANC should take at least 62 per cent of the seats in the new parliament. Mr de Klerk, ending 46 years of National Party rule and 350 years of white domination, said he looked forward to working 'hand in hand' with Mr Mandela, as vice-president in the new government of national unity due to take office next week.
A little later, amid jubilant and tearful scenes, Mr Mandela addressed a crowd of ANC workers, diplomats and journalists at the Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg. 'I stand before you filled with deep pride and joy,' he said. 'Pride in the ordinary, humble people who have shown such a calm, patient determination to reclaim this country for your own.'
And then, Mr Mandela, who spent 27 years in apartheid jails, echoed Martin Luther King's celebrated words from the steps of the Lincoln memorial in 1963: 'Now we can finally declare from the rooftops, 'Free at last] Free at last]' '
The ANC president began his victory speech by thanking the people of the world who had resisted white domination in South Africa. 'This is indeed a joyous night for the human spirit,' he said. 'You too helped end apartheid.'
Within hours, thousands of ANC supporters gathered on the streets of Johannesburg as word went round that the great party of national liberation had begun. Cries of 'One Mandela, one President' filled the air. Black hands reached out to white hands and voices said: 'We love you all, all South Africans, black and white.'
There were no signs of violence but, demonstrating an exuberance Mr Mandela would not necessarily have approved of, a group of his supporters burned a De Klerk election poster on Johannesburg's Main Street. In the Carlton Hotel's ballroom, normally restrained ANC leaders, dripping with sweat, danced and hugged.
Earlier, Mr de Klerk told a crowd of National Party supporters in Pretoria that Mr Mandela would 'soon assume the highest office in the land'. He described the ANC president as 'a man of destiny' who had 'walked a long road'. In a concession speech described by ANC officials as a model of graciousness and generosity, Mr de Klerk said: 'A power greater than Man has given South Africa the chance, the spirit to go forward in peace.'
He concluded with the words 'God bless South Africa' and then, as if reaching out to his black compatriots: 'Nkosi Sikelele i' Afrika' (God bless Africa), title of the anthem of black liberation.
By last night the vote-counting process was only 40 per cent completed after three days. But enough results had come in to leave the outcome beyond doubt. The ANC was forging ahead with 62.4 per cent of the vote to the NP's 23.7 per cent.
The Western Cape went to the National Party, which attracted the majority of the Coloured (mixed race) vote. The result in KwaZulu-Natal still hung in the balance with 16 per cent of votes counted. Inkatha was leading the ANC but the results of the urban areas, where ANC support is strongest, are not expected until late today.