SOWETO, South Africa -- Nelson Mandela, once one of the world's most famous political prisoners, is celebrating Christmas as a free man for the first time in almost 30 years.
"I will celebrate Christmas without being a fugitive or a prisoner," he said yesterday in a generally upbeat message to his fellow South Africans.
Speaking to reporters at his home in the black township of Soweto, Mr. Mandela said he is hopeful that South Africa will become the kind of society he and others have fought to create.
"The South Africa so many have sacrificed so much to achieve is within sight," he said.
He added that he was afraid, however, that a "culture of violence is becoming endemic" in South Africa, where thousands have died in factional fighting in recent years.
Mr. Mandela said he believed a meeting between the African National Congress and its major black rival, the Zulu-based Inkatha organization, would be a crucial step toward stopping the fighting between supporters of the two groups.
The leaders of both groups have agreed to meet next year.
Mr. Mandela planned to spend the Christmas holiday with his family and friends, including ANC President Oliver Tambo, who had been in exile for 30 years until his return to South Africa this month.
Mr. Tambo met yesterday with President Frederik W. de Klerk in Pretoria.
It was their first meeting, and the ANC president described Mr. de Klerk as "most pleasant and understanding."
Mr. Tambo said he hoped that South Africa would have a "full recovery from apartheid" by next Christmas.