World leaders watch as Mandela takes the reins of power

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The Independent Online
YASSER ARAFAT was there, Fidel Castro was there, Prince Philip, Douglas Hurd, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Jesse Jackson, 42 heads of state and scores more leaders from around the globe: all were there at Pretoria's Union Buildings yesterday to convey the world's blessings to the newly inaugurated President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. But it was the fly-past that stole the show.

The brass band of the South African navy had barely finished the last bars of the national anthem when a 21-gun salute boomed from army headquarters over the hill, the cue for nine army helicopters, nine police twin-props and five sets of nine air force planes to roar in formation overhead.

Then six more air force jets flew over what was once the seat of apartheid power, trailing in their streams the black, green, gold, red, blue and white of the new South African flag.

On the podium with President Mandela, the country's top generals stood to attention, adding their brocaded weight to the final, happy act of South Africa's ancient drama.

Nothing - not Mr Mandela's speech, not his oath of office - generated more excitement, ululating and cheers and 'vivas' than the fly- past. In the amphitheatre of the Union Buildings and, down a steep hill, on the Botha Lawns (named after a Boer War general), 50,000 ANC loyalists shouted themselves hoarse. Men and women wept.

Joe Slovo, the grizzled old chairman of the Communist Party, the former chief of staff of the ANC guerrilla army, said nothing he had experienced in the last two heady weeks had moved him more.

Why? Because the armed forces had been the ultimate guarantee of white political supremacy during 350 years and now they had transferred their loyalty to all the people of South Africa, in the act putting the seal on South Africa's negotiated revolution.

If there was one message President Mandela sought to convey above all others it was that the time for 'struggle' was over, the time for national healing, the time to create 'a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world', had begun.

He set the tone - and an example not all his followers have yet heeded - by abandoning the traditional clenched fist when the navy band struck up the anthem of liberation, Nkosi Sikelel'i Afrika, and instead placing his right hand flat across his heart. Yesterday when he strolled down to the Botha Lawns to address the crowd he greeted them not with a fist - as he would have done two weeks ago - but with a wave.

Instantly seeking to acquaint his followers with the new ways he told them that his Deputy President, F W de Klerk, standing alongside him, was 'one of the greatest sons of Africa'. He told them, in Afrikaans for good measure, that the past was past.

And then it was on by helicopter, after lunch with the dignitaries, to the citadel of South African rugby, Ellis Park, where South Africa and Zambia were playing a soccer match. At half time he strode to the centre circle and told another 50,000 adoring - if somewhat amazed - fans that in the spirit of 'nation-building' they should all learn the Afrikaans words of the old apartheid anthem, Die Stem, for it too, together with Nkosi Sikelel'i Afrika, would now be sung at every important national occasion.

And then South Africa won the game 2-1 and the white policemen inside the stadium, like the white policeman on the Botha Lawns, laughed along with the black crowds, as if a colossal burden had been lifted from their shoulders.

Nelson Mandela's prison warder was among the guests at yesterday's inauguration. James Gregory and his wife Gloria were flown from Cape Town for the event as the guests of President Mandela.

Mr Gregory, who retired from the prisons service last year with the rank of lieutenant, was Mr Mandela's warder for 23 years, beginning in 1967 on Robben Island, then Pollsmoor and Victor Verster prison, and was with him until his release in February 1990.