BLACK VOICES
05/10/2013 11:46 am ET Updated May 10, 2013

Nelson Mandela Inauguration: South African Leader Became Nation's First Black President 19 Years Ago

On this day, 19 years ago, Nelson Mandela made history by becoming the first black president of South Africa after more than three centuries of white rule.

Mandela's party, the African National Congress (ANC) won a large majority of the seats in the country's first democratic election with more than two million South Africans turning out to cast ballots.

After spending 27 years in jail as a political prisoner, Mandela called for healing as the nation recovered from centuries of racial discrimination, declaring "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another."

In his statement, the leader acknowledged the pain of the past, simultaneously painting the picture of a bright future.

The time for the healing of the wounds has come.

The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come.

The time to build is upon us.

We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.

We succeeded to take our last steps to freedom in conditions of relative peace. We commit ourselves to the construction of a complete, just and lasting peace.

We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity - a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.

Today, concerns for the political icon's health have grown after he was hospitalized several times for a recurring lung infection. Mandela appeared weak in a recent video showing him more than three weeks after his most recent hospital visit, despite the government's insistence that he was "in good shape and in good spirits."

The leader's words 19 years ago still resonate today, holding significance both for South Africa and the rest of the world.

Take a look at Mandela on the day of his inauguration in the photo below and watch his full speech in the video above.

nelson mandela inauguration

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