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South Africa To Swear In Mbeki

June 15, 1999

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ On a day when South Africans remember the martyrs of the anti-apartheid struggle, they will bid farewell Wednesday to Nelson Mandela and welcome his successor, Thabo Mbeki.

Mbeki is to be sworn in as president at Pretoria’s Union Buildings, the seat of government where white minority leaders devised and administered the apartheid system for decades. It is the same place where Mandela took the oath of office as South Africa’s first freely elected president in 1994.

The government has designed the day as a national celebration. After Mbeki is sworn in and gives his inaugural address, a ``people’s concert″ on the buildings’ lawn will extend into the evening. South Africa’s national soccer team will play Zimbabwe for the Presidential Inauguration Cup. Mandela will attend the ceremony, and is expected to speak afterward on the lawn.

Wednesday is youth day, marking the anniversary of the start of the 1976 Soweto uprising, a turning point in the struggle against apartheid. Nine children died in the violence on June 16, 1976, and Mandela plans a visit to the memorial for one of the victims, Hector Peterson.

Most likely, memories will be drawn Wednesday to the 1994 inauguration, which was a joyous moment celebrating South Africa’s return to the community of nations after the ostracism brought by apartheid.

But it won’t be the same.

The mainly white opposition Democratic Party has protested the $7.7 million being spent on the event as wasteful in a country still overwhelmed by poverty. The party also has denounced the draping over of statues at the Union Buildings of military heroes of the Afrikaners, the descendants of mainly Dutch settlers who dominated the country under apartheid.

Unlike the stellar cast of guests in 1994, the list this time is modest. The Group of Eight leaders of industrial nations are meeting this week, ruling out leading European heads of state and President Clinton, who will be represented by Attorney General Janet Reno.

Most of the about 130 countries issued invitations are sending ministers, senators and ambassadors, except for 30 presidents _ only three from outside the continent, the government says.

The day will officially send the 80-year-old Mandela into retirement, which he plans to divide between Johannesburg, his wife Graca’s home of Maputo in Mozambique, and Qunu, his childhood village in rural southeastern South Africa.

After Mandela’s five-year term of trying to ease South Africans across the racial divide and improve the lives of the impoverished black majority, Mbeki, who turns 58 on Friday, will be under pressure to speed up help for the poor.

It is not an easy act to follow.

``Mbeki has the difficult task of taking over from a man who was hero-worshipped and regarded as almost perfect to a fault,″ political scientist Phil Mtimkulu wrote Tuesday in The Star of Johannesburg.

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