DETROIT — Nelson Mandela, on the eve of his visit to Los Angeles, got the cold shoulder from Cuban exiles on a steamy, 90-degree Thursday in Miami but found plenty of new friends later in Detroit, where auto workers cheered him as a hero for working people everywhere.
"You are not only workers. You are the men and women who are responsible for the health of the economy of this country," the 71-year-old South African liberation leader told more than 1,000 employees at the Ford River Rouge automobile plant in the Dearborn suburb of Detroit.
"It is you who have made the United States of America a superpower, a leader of the world," Mandela added. "We will go back to our country knowing we have behind us the full support of the working people of this country."
Earlier, Mandela addressed another labor gathering in Miami, which became the first city not to roll out the red carpet for Mandela since he arrived in the United States on June 20. In fact, Mandela's greeting at the Miami airport when he arrived shortly after midnight did not amount to much more than a police escort to his hotel.
Mandela had angered Cuban exile politicians last week with his kind words for Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who has supported Mandela's African National Congress since it was banned in South Africa in 1960 and its leaders went to jail or into exile. And, for a few hours Thursday, Mandela's presence in Miami stirred the racial tension that simmers between blacks and Latinos there.
After a four-hour flight, Mandela arrived in Detroit Thursday evening for the auto assembly plant tour, functions with Mayor Coleman Young and other city leaders and a sold-out rally at Tiger Stadium, where 49,000 people bought tickets ranging in price from $10 to $10,000 to hear Mandela.
"I think we hit a home run tonight, and we picked a good place for it--Tiger Stadium," an ecstatic Young later told the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was acting as commentator on a local TV station.
A multiracial crowd at the stadium sat through a five-hour concert, serenaded by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder, to hear Mandela deliver a 20-minute speech at the end of a long day.
"Your solidarity has given us enormous strength and courage," Mandela said. "We will not forget you."
Mandela is expected in Los Angeles around midday today for the penultimate stop on his 12-day, 8-city tour.
The ANC and its ally, the giant Congress of South African Trade Unions, have long received financial support from the United Auto Workers and other American labor organizations, which have provided money for scholarships for ANC exiles and also aided black trade unions in South Africa, which were legalized only a decade ago.
Owen Bieber, the UAW president, presented Mandela and his wife, Winnie, with lifetime union memberships and UAW jackets and caps, which a smiling Mandela immediately donned, despite the sweltering heat in the factory. The workers, both black and white, had waited most of the afternoon for Mandela, who arrived four hours late from Miami and declared himself "very happy to touch down in the industrial heartland."
"The man who stands before you is not a stranger," Mandela said. "I am a member of the UAW; I am your flesh and blood. I am your comrade."
The Rouge plant, built in the 1920s by Henry Ford, was one of the world's first completely integrated factories, which took in iron ore, timber and other raw materials to produce cars--all in the same complex. Until recently, it was the largest manufacturing complex in the world.
The plant, which makes the Mustang, has been the scene of some of America's more dramatic labor disputes. It once employed some 40,000 workers but that figure has dwindled to about 7,000.
Mandela had spent the morning in Miami, where organizers of his tour delayed a scheduled speech to give the Mandelas extra rest. When he finally arrived at the Miami Beach Convention Center, Mandela received a rousing reception from 3,000 delegates to a meeting of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Rising to applaud the gray-haired deputy president of the ANC, the delegates chanted "Keep the Pressure On," which has become the theme of Mandela's U.S. tour. Mandela stood erect at the podium, smiled broadly as the applause thundered through the hall and finally spoke in a loud, firm voice.
He thanked the American working masses, who, he said, "have known us when very few thought of our people as human beings. They have comforted us at the moment of our greatest pain and anguish."
During the last 10 years, the AFSCME has contributed more than $500,000 to the ANC, the primary group fighting white minority-led rule in Pretoria, as well as the ANC's Washington-based lobbying group.
"In jail and behind the thick prison walls, we could hear loud and clear your voice calling for our release," Mandela said. "We felt your impatience with our enslavement."