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South Africa celebrates 10 years of freedom

South African President Thabo Mbeki, center, flanked by his wife Zanele, right, salutes the crowd after being sworn in for a second and final term on Tuesday.Alexander Joe / Pool via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Thabo Mbeki was sworn in for a second term Tuesday as South Africa celebrated 10 years of democracy and an end to the brutal apartheid system that denied the most basic of rights to the vast majority of its people.

Presidents, monarchs, diplomats and hundreds of invited guests watched as Mbeki took the oath at the Union Buildings, the seat of government where white minority leaders devised and administered decades of racial repression. Tens of thousands of cheering, flag-waving people watched the ceremony on giant television screens from the surrounding lawns.

“Today we begin our second decade of democracy,” Mbeki said. “We are convinced that what has been achieved during the first demonstrates that as Africans we can and will solve our problems.”

“Having served as the prime example of human despair, Africa is certain to emerge as a place of human hope,” he said.

Mbeki’s second inauguration came on Freedom Day, the holiday that commemorates the day in 1994 when South Africans of all races voted together for the first time, bringing a miraculously peaceful close to almost half a century of oppressive white minority rule.

Nelson Mandela, who emerged from 27 years in prison to lead negotiations that ended apartheid, was elected the country’s first black president.

Ten years later, Mandela watched as his designated successor began a second term after the governing African National Congress’ most decisive election victory yet on April 14.

Hobbled by age and the rigors of long imprisonment, the 85-year-old Mandela was greeted with wild cheers, songs and a standing ovation as he was helped up the stairs to his seat with his wife, Graca Machel.

“For too long our country contained within it and represented much that is ugly and repulsive in human society,” Mbeki said. “It was a place where to be born black was to inherit a lifelong curse. It was a place in which to be born white was to carry a permanent burden of fear and hidden rage.”

Ten years ago, South Africa was a place where people born to poverty would die poor in the land of gold and diamonds, he said.

Devastated by AIDS
Today, despite a growing economy and new opportunities for millions sidelined under apartheid, the president acknowledged the country still faces major challenges — widespread poverty, high unemployment, crime and a devastating AIDS epidemic.

“We are determined to ensure that no one ever has grounds to say he or she has been denied his or her place in the sun,” Mbeki said.

A fighter jet in the colors of the national flag roared overhead as a 21-gun salute was sounded and South Africa’s armed forces marched before the president. Later, a gala dinner was planned along with a concert featuring some 200 of the country’s top musicians.

The presidents of Zimbabwe, Congo and Nigeria, the kings of Lesotho and Swaziland, and the vice presidents of India and Iran were among representatives from some 100 countries at the festivities.

Most countries outside Africa sent lower-level delegations. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott represented Britain, and Alphonso Jackson, secretary of housing and urban development, led a delegation from the United States.

South African embassies were also hosting celebrations around the world.

But on a day when South Africans celebrated their achievements, Mbeki said the joy was tempered by the reality of a troubled world.

“None of us can be indifferent to the violence that continues to claim lives in various countries in the Middle East, including Palestine, Israel, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. We cannot be indifferent to the acts of terrorism that took away many lives in Nairobi, Dar-es-Salaam, New York, Madrid and elsewhere,” said Mbeki.

Besides pursing a goal of a better life for all its people, he said South Africa also would do what it could to encourage a “more equitable and humane new world order.”