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Sunday, 26 August, 2001, 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK
Flashback: South Africa's new dawn
President Mandela and F W de Klerk at a turning point in South Africa's history
BBC Correspondent Fergal Keane reported on South Africa's landmark elections which marked the transition from white rule. This was his account of that defining moment, on 26 April 1994:

White rule on the continent of Africa came to an end at seven o'clock, South African time, this morning.

It did not come through violent rebellion. There were no cheers and no fanfares, only the quiet shuffling feet of the elderly and the sick as they queued at polling stations across the country.

Most of those voting were young people when apartheid - with its multiple humiliations and cruelties - was introduced.


Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful earth will again experience the oppression of one by another. The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement. Let freedom reign. God bless Africa.

Nelson Mandela, 10 May 1994
They were the nameless, voiceless millions who were banished to impoverished homelands, whose leaders were imprisoned and murdered in the service of the dream of racial purity.

But South Africa's negotiated revolution has seen the last racial oligarchy on the African Continent disappear, and the man who led the struggle through 27 long and lonely years in prison, Nelson Mandela, had this to say to his supporters:

"We saw your misery; we shared your hopes and dreams; now your day has come because this election is about you.

"It is your election; it is your vote that counts."

A burden lifted

South Africa's changing times
11 February 1990: Nelson Mandela released
May 1990: Formal negotiations begin between government and ANC
22 December 1993: Parliament ratifies new consitution
26 April 1994: First multi-racial elections
10 May 1994: Nelson Mandela sworn in as president

For whites, it is a day of conflicting emotions. For those on the far right, a time of solemn resentment, even hatred of the new political reality. But for many others, there is a sense of relief.

The burden of guilt, which was one of apartheid's most profound legacies, has at last been lifted.

The man who led whites on their journey away from racial segregation, F W de Klerk, accompanied his 89-year-old mother when she voted in Pretoria.

He explained why he regarded the day as a happy one: "It was my policy that there should come an end to National Party rule, and that we should have on a power-sharing basis a government of national unity.

Colonial era ends

"I feel a sense of achievement. My plan has been accepted, and my plan is now being put into operation. It's good news," he said.

The casting of the first votes represents a defining moment in history, which extends beyond the borders of South Africa itself.

The era which began with the European conquest of Africa, from the 17th Century onwards, has finally ended.

And with it forever, the notion that one man can rule over another because his skin is a lighter shade.

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 ON THIS STORY
Fergal Keane
The new flag is raised at midnight
Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.


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