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Mandela Gets Star's Welcome

June 30, 1990|TRACY WILKINSON and ANDREA FORD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela came to Los Angeles Friday on the last leg of a taxing eight-city U.S. tour and in a series of addresses asked Hollywood celebrities and inner-city students alike to keep fighting against white minority-led rule in South Africa.

In a ceremony on the steps of City Hall, at a glitzy dinner and, finally, at a late-night '60s-style rally at a packed Coliseum, Mandela thanked Los Angeles for its "staunch" financial and political support in the crusade to end South Africa's apartheid system.

"We could not have left the United States without visiting the city which daily nourished the dreams of millions of people the world over," Mandela told an estimated 70,000 people who filled the Coliseum, many waving fists and chanting his name. "Many would know Los Angeles as the unchallenged capital of motion pictures, many would regard your city as the city of glamour and splendor.

"We who have suffered and continue to suffer the pain of oppression know that underneath that face of Los Angeles lies the great and noble spirit of the citizenry. We who fight for human rights know the depths of the human spirit running through the hills and valleys of the state of California."

The reaction of the crowd to Mandela's words was swift and strong.

"I think this is the most fantastic thing in L.A. history," said a euphoric Victor Jackson. "L.A. has shown a unity that I didn't think existed. Anytime you can have this many people out in the fight against apartheid it's beautiful."

Sharon Locke, 30, of Culver City, echoed the unity theme.

"I like the way the people in Los Angels turned out," said Locke. "I think the unity is contagious. I really feel it."

Earlier, at a midday ceremony at City Hall, Mandela looked weary but spoke firmly as he told several thousand people that America's "unsung heroes" have helped to build a "powerful, broad-based" movement that is approaching victory in the struggle against South Africa's policies of racial segregation.

Mandela was hailed by movie stars and Mayor Tom Bradley, who called him a "kindred spirit" of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.

"In our youth, Hollywood was the stuff of dreams," Mandela said on the steps of City Hall, with actor Gregory Peck presiding over the event. "In a sense, our youthful dreams, to some extent, are being realized."

But, he added, "We are particularly overjoyed to be in this city because Los Angeles is a staunch supporter of the anti-apartheid movement."

In fact, Los Angeles is seen as key to tour organizers' goal of raising millions of dollars to underwrite social and political work by Mandela's African National Congress.

An estimated $1.2 million was raised by a reception Friday evening at the Exposition Park Armory, and 70,000 $10 tickets for a rally at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum were sold--making it a sellout crowd, organizers said.

Late Friday, tens of thousands of people flocked to the Coliseum--on foot, in buses and even in stretch limousines--to hear rap music, gospel and folk songs as a prelude to Mandela's second Los Angeles speech. Hundreds of youths, following behind African drums mounted on a flatbed truck, marched four miles to the rally.

Scalpers outside tried to hawk tickets for $20 and vendors did a brisk T-shirt and Mandela-button business.

Turning to the thousands of youth who joined in the Coliseum rally, Mandela offered an unusually direct and personal message. He said he understood the "joy and pain" of American youth today but warned against using drugs to "escape reality."

"We learned we could make the future bright by overcoming our own weaknesses and the weaknesses of others," he said. "It is our common responsibility to never give up hope. We must all (work) to make the world a better place."

The crowd gave Mandela a standing ovation.

"Most people break down in jail, but Mandela outlived a lot of the people who put him behind bars," said Reuben White, 41, of Mandela's 27 years in prison.

"You must have patience like that to pass the cause on to the children," added White, a communications teacher who brought his 12-year-old son to the Coliseum rally.

While the Coliseum event was packed, the crowd that assembled earlier for Mandela's midday address at City Hall was considerably smaller than the throng of well-wishers that organizers had hoped for.

Los Angeles County Fire Department officials estimated that 4,000 to 5,000 people gathered at City Hall; the police, who first estimated crowd size at 3,000, later revised the figure to about 15,000.

"How it got from 2,500 at 12:30 to 15,000 (two hours later), I can't explain," Los Angeles Police Lt. Fred Nixon said.

Whichever the figure, it fell far short of the 30,000 that organizers were predicting. When the Dodgers won the World Series in 1988, an estimated 70,000 people crowded City Hall.

City officials and program organizers said they were not overly concerned about the turnout.

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