CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Nelson Mandela brought three centuries of bitter white rule to a dramatic close Monday, here in the colonial city where it all began, when he was unanimously elected South Africa's first black president by its first all-race Parliament.
"Today we are entering a new era," he told a wildly cheering crowd outside City Hall. He spoke from the same balcony where he addressed the world four years ago after his release from more than a quarter of a century in prison.
Moments later, Desmond Tutu, the Anglican archbishop and Nobel laureate, appeared beside him with a smile as dazzling as his bright magenta cassock.
As always, Tutu was less restrained. "We are free today!" he shouted gleefully, waving his arms to the tens of thousands who packed the Grand Parade. "We are free today! All of us, black and white together!"
This historic day, which will be followed today by the formal inauguration in Pretoria, began with an emotional swearing-in ceremony for the 400 new legislators. They convened in what was once the inner sanctum of apartheid: the great hall of Parliament, where a handful of whites enshrined racism and hatred into law.
The opening prayer paraphrased another hero of black liberation, Abraham Lincoln: "For the first time in history, we have a government of the people, by the people and for the people."
Outgoing President Frederik W. de Klerk, Africa's last white ruler, showed Mandela to De Klerk's old green leather seat in the government front bench. It was from there that De Klerk rose in February, 1990, to repudiate apartheid and announce the reforms that freed Mandela and legalized his African National Congress and other black opposition groups.
Mandela walked slowly down the benches, shaking hands and smiling. Then, in a show of reconciliation, he beamed broadly and crossed the floor to embrace his most bitter black rival, Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi. The room erupted in applause.
Then came the oath of office. Mandela, his estranged wife, Winnie, his new deputy president, Thabo Mbeki, and seven other senior members of the ANC were in the first group called to raise their right hands and swear allegiance to what long seemed an impossible dream: a democratic South Africa.
Next to sign the oath were De Klerk and nine of his National Party ministers and deputies. De Klerk, 58, now becomes the second deputy president; six of his followers have been named to the new coalition Cabinet.
Then came the rest: former ANC guerrillas, political prisoners and exiles, current political rivals and aspirants, as well as many of the whites who once passed the legal rules of racial oppression--and later renounced them.
They changed the color and face of South Africa's power elite in just over an hour.
Albertina Sisulu, wife of 80-year-old Walter Sisulu, who first brought Mandela into the ANC and who suffered beside Mandela for most of his 27 years as a political prisoner, next rose to offer Mandela's name in nomination. Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC general secretary, offered the second.
Up at the podium, Chief Justice Michael Corbett paused in his black robes as the chamber grew silent. "Only one candidate has been nominated, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela," he intoned.
Then he paused again. "I hereby declare Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela duly elected president of the Republic of South Africa on behalf . . . " He was cut off as every member of Parliament and hundreds of guests rose in a deafening roar of cheers and applause.
"On behalf of all the members present, I congratulate you, sir, on being elected president of the Republic of South Africa," Corbett finally finished.
Mandela, 75 and silver-haired, looked dapper as he acknowledged the honor in a gray striped suit with a white carnation in the left lapel.
Another honor came from a traditional bare-chested imbongi, or praise singer, from Mandela's Tembu tribe. Wearing animal skins and waving a long whisk, he bellowed a chant that recalled Mandela's life: from herd boy to political prisoner to the presidency.
The story had special poignancy here, beside the Cape of Good Hope, in the port where Dutch sailors founded the first white settlement in 1652 and began the European colonization of southern Africa.
Most of the rest of Africa shed the yoke of white rule and colonialism, especially after World War II. But the Afrikaners here, as descendants of those early settlers are called, moved the other way. Starting in 1948, with the election of the first National Party government, they systematically imposed Draconian laws to enshrine white supremacy.
They used the whites-only Parliament to ban interracial mixing in schools, hospitals, neighborhoods and marriage. They forced families apart, bulldozed black homes from white areas and forced millions at gunpoint to desolate, reservation-like homelands in a vain attempt to separate the races.