DURBAN, South Africa -- Nelson Mandela became the undisputed leader of the African National Congress yesterday as the anti-apartheid organization picked a team to guide it through the rough political waters of the next few years.
The 2,224 delegates at the ANC's annual convention also elected veteran activist Walter Sisulu, who spent a quarter-century in prison with Mr. Mandela, for Mr. Mandela's old position of deputy president.
In a move to include the younger generation on the ANC's top team, the delegates chose respected trade unionist Cyril Ramaphosa for the No. 3 post of secretary-general. Mr. Ramaphosa, 40, has led the powerful black union, the National Union of Mineworkers, through difficult labor negotiations with South Africa's gold-mining giants since 1982.
The new officials will lead the ANC as it moves into critical negotiations with the government on a new constitution for South Africa and democratic elections that, for the first time, will not be based on race. The black majority of 28 million currently has no vote in South Africa's national affairs, which are run by the white minority of 5 million.
Mr. Mandela succeeds Oliver Tambo, the man who led the ANC in exile for 23 years and built it into a formidable anti-apartheid force. Mr. Tambo, 73, never fully recovered from a massive stroke he suffered in 1989. The convention created a special position for him, national chairman, with undefined responsibilities in a clear move to show gratitude for his years of service to the anti-apartheid cause.
The popular Mr. Ramaphosa, a low-key but highly regarded lawyer, was a key figure in anti-apartheid politics in the 1980s when the ANC was banned. When his election was announced, he was hoisted onto the shoulders of enthusiastic supporters and carried from the back of the convention hall to the front stage.
He becomes the first member ofthe Mass Democratic Movement of the 1980s to rise to a high position in the ANC alongside the old guard such as Mr. Mandela and Mr. Sisulu.
"This means there is a presence now of the internal leadership of the MDM in a very important position," said Allan Boesak, also a former leader of the Mass Democratic Movement. "But the nice thing about this is that it's not the only reason Cyril was chosen. Cyril was chosen because of the definite qualities of leadership that he brings with him.
"Whether it's intended or not, it will have a message on the ground. It will be that those who have stayed here, like those who have gone to jail and those who have been in exile, are all part of the struggle and need to be recognized."
Leaders of the internal movement had been shut out of top positions since the ANC was legalized last year by President Frederik W. de Klerk. Former political prisoners and exiles had moved into those positions, and Mr. Mandela last year expressed a need to bring together the different elements of his fractured movement.
"My election should come as no surprise to people, because the membership of the ANC believes we need to emerge with an ANC that is as balanced as we are going to emerge with here," Mr. Ramaphosa told reporters.
He ousted the incumbent secretary-general, Alfred Nzo, by 1,156-371 despite what some delegates described as a vigorous lobbying campaign by one of Mr. Nzo's staunchest supporters, Winnie Mandela.
Mr. Mandela, who has become an international symbol of the ANC, was unchallenged for the presidency. Mr. Sisulu, a pragmatist, easily defeated hard-line Communist Harry Gwala for the No. 2 spot.
The ANC convention is scheduled to elect a 55-member executive board and take official positions on a wide range of political issues before adjourning tomorrow. Among the issues to be resolved are the ANC's position on international sanctions and its approach to negotiations with Mr. de Klerk's reformist government.