Last night at a ceremony to ratify the country’s first democratic constitution.
Breaking with 45 years of apartheid and three centuries of colonial injustice, the constitution starts from the premise that all people, black and white, stand equal before the law. Agreement on an electoral Bill paves the way for general elections on 27 April.
‘We are at the end of an era. We are at the beginning of a new era,’ declared Mr Mandela, president of the African National Congress, before more than 200 delegates representing 21 parties in the vast hall of Johannesburg’s World Trade Centre.
‘Together we can build a society free of violence. We can build a society grounded on friendship and our common humanity – a society founded on tolerance . . . Let us join hands and march into the future.’
On a night for grand statements, President de Klerk was not to be outdone. ‘South Africa will never be the same again,’ he declared. Describing the constitution as ‘a contract’ between South Africans, he said: ‘We have shown that it is possible for people with widely differing views and beliefs to reach basic and sound agreements through compromise.’ The document, he said, was ‘the distillation of the dreams of generations of disenfranchised South Africans’.