One man's love and dignity through oppression

One man's love and dignity through oppression

This was the man, the most unique of men, the lawyer, the freedom fighter who, with immense inner strength and quiet dignity, told the presiding judge at his trial: "During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people... I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for. But, my lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

He paid a heavy price for that ideal and spent the next 27 years on the infamous Robben Island to become the world's best-known and longest-serving prisoner.

This was also the man who, at the moment of his greatest triumph, told an expectant nation and the entire world: "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world."

That was Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela's address at the Union Buildings in Pretoria at his inauguration on May 10, 1994, ending more than three centuries of white rule.

Heads of delegations arrived early in the morning for the inauguration at the imposing Union Buildings in Pretoria at carefully timed intervals. Uniformed personnel, both black and white, male and female, led each leader to a large holding room inside.

Singapore was represented by Finance Minister Richard Hu, and Malaysia by Foreign Minister Abdullah Badawi. When the Singapore delegation arrived, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto were already there. Everyone was smiling and cheerful. Almost all in that room had waited long for that inauguration and were glad to be part of that historic moment.

US Vice-President Al Gore was there too, but it was First Lady Hillary Clinton in the US delegation who attracted the most attention. There was an audible gasp at her arrival as walking alongside her was her security officer of the same height and hairstyle, and dressed exactly like her right down to her handbag and shoes.

Then there was Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, himself a freedom fighter, who received prolonged applause when he arrived in his unmistakable black and white scarf, the keffiyeh, which he had adopted much earlier to symbolise the Palestinian resistance movement.

But the wildest cheers were reserved for Cuban President Fidel Castro. South Africans recognised Cuba's contribution to the cause of the African National Congress.

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