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Mandela Attains Hero Status With U.S. Tour

July 01, 1990|SCOTT KRAFT and TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Walters added that Mandela's "eloquence, strength, consistency and brilliance" evoked inevitable comparisons with King, even though Mandela embraces violence as a means of liberating black South Africans, while King was a prophet of nonviolence.

It wasn't until the 1980s, though, that Mandela became a well-known name in the United States. His biographer and longtime friend, Fatima Meer, remembers being turned down by publisher after publisher as she tried to sell Mandela's story during the 1970s, when the cause of Steve Biko's Black Consciousness movement was finding more supporters in the United States than the exiled ANC's guerrilla war.

But Mandela's refusal in the 1980s to renounce the ANC's armed struggle in exchange for freedom struck a chord around the world. And no sooner had he stepped out of prison on Feb. 11, freed from a life sentence by President Frederik W. de Klerk, than Mandela was a world leader.

Americans discovered quickly, by watching Mandela field questions in news conferences and TV interviews, that the gray-haired former prisoner was no simple figurehead. He surprised correspondents at the White House by giving a detailed outline of his differences with the Bush Administration--while standing next to the president.

Political columnist Jack Germond, on the "McLaughlin" show, said Mandela was "a very militant, aggressive, tough guy, and anybody who thinks he's just a kindly old man is mistaken."

Mandela's raw political savvy emerged in an interview with ABC's Ted Koppel during a "town meeting" program, where the liberation leader repeated his belief that Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi and Cuban President Fidel Castro were "comrades in arms" because they had supported the ANC when most other countries, including the United States, refused.

At one point in the interview, Koppel was left momentarily speechless by one of Mandela's answers. "I don't know if I have paralyzed you," Mandela said with a smile. After a few moments, Koppel responded, without much conviction: "It takes more than that to paralyze me."

On Capitol Hill, Mandela's kind words for Arafat, Kadafi and Castro cost him some support. But the ANC's lobbying efforts succeeded in obtaining commitments from President Bush and most legislators that U.S. sanctions against South Africa, among the stiffest of any country's efforts to isolate Pretoria, would remain in place at least until all political prisoners were free and the state of emergency was lifted from the entire country.

That commitment to keep sanctions at the current levels was a major victory for Mandela.

"We have no doubt . . . that the fact that we have the support of the entire world on the question of sanctions is going to have an effect on negotiations," Mandela told The Times in an interview Saturday. "The government is as worried as ourselves that the economy in the country should not be ruined. One of the reasons they have agreed to sit down with us and have discussions is because sanctions are biting."

In addition to gaining assurances on sanctions, Mandela's chief goal during his U.S. visit was to raise money for the ANC, whose leaders have cited "enormous" needs as the recently unbanned organization transforms itself from a clandestine network to an above-ground political party.

If Mandela has been surprised by his rousing receptions, he can be no less surprised at the amount of money that has come pouring into the tax-exempt Mandela Freedom Fund, thanks to fancy dinners and sold-out rallies. Final proceeds are still being tallied, but so far his events have grossed at least $6 million--three times organizers' original whispered goal.

At some Mandela appearances, such as his speech at the Riverside Church in New York and the rally in his honor at Atlanta's Georgia Tech stadium, the collection plate was passed.

"Ladies and gentlemen, freedom is not free," California Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) told a packed Coliseum Friday in an unabashed pitch for money that was common throughout Mandela's tour. "Now that Nelson Mandela has been released . . . we need typewriters, fax machines, offices, telephones. . . . Are you prepared to make a little sacrifice?

"Dig in your pockets," she said. "Dig deep."

Still uncounted is the cut that will go to the ANC from the sale of official Mandela tour T-shirts, buttons and other paraphernalia.

Most likely, the ANC also will be entitled eventually to some of the $10 million that Congress is making available through the National Endowment for Democracy for the building of "democratic institutions" in South Africa.

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