Clinton gives July 4 honors to de Klerk, Mandela Pointed remarks in celebration

July 05, 1993|By New York Times News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- Nelson Mandela and President F. W. de Klerk of South Africa joined President Clinton at the birthplace of American independence yesterday, capping a day of pointed remarks on the distance each nation must travel to guarantee the fruits of freedom to all their citizens.

Mr. de Klerk and Mr. Mandela, the leader of the African National Congress, were given the Liberty Medal in a ceremony at Independence Hall.

Mr. Mandela shook hands cordially with Mr. de Klerk, yet recalled the observation of Frederick Douglass in marking the holiday 141 years ago during the era of slavery that, "This Fourth of July is yours, not mine."

Quoting from Langston Hughes' poem, "Harlem," Mr. Mandela said that for millions in the United States and elsewhere, amid problems of drug abuse, homelessness and violence, the promise of liberty was "but a dream deferred."

As South Africans negotiate a transition into rule by the black majority, he said, the great challenge would be to ensure "that no one in our country shall in the future complain that justice and prosperity are not shared by them."

Mr. Clinton, Mr. de Klerk and Mr. Mandela spoke in front of more than 2,000 invited guests and thousands of others who jammed the mall in which sits the pavilion that houses the Liberty Bell.

Amid controversy over the appropriateness of awarding the medal to Mr. de Klerk, he and Mr. Mandela had a sharp exchange at a news conference preceding the ceremony in which the anti-apartheid leader stated: "We don't regard Mr. de Klerk as the president of South Africa."

Mr. Mandela said that people of color, 85 percent of the nation's population, had no say in the election of Mr. de Klerk.

The crowd included several hundred protesters who chanted during Mr. Mandela's speech, "Mandela yes, de Klerk, no." But they were about 300 yards from the podium and caused minimal disruption, and Mr. de Klerk's speech was applauded politely.

The awards, conferred by the civic group We the People 2000, carried a $100,000 cash prize that the two leaders split.

The Liberty Medal and the cash award were established by Philadelphia-area business and civic leaders in 1988 to heighten recognition of the nation's founding principles.

During an earlier appearance at a North Philadelphia church, Mr. Mandela got more than $30,000 in pledges for his organization in what became an impromptu telethon headed by former Rep. William H. Gray III, the church's pastor.

While Mr. Mandela and Mr. de Klerk are in the United States, their representatives are negotiating the transition to democratic rule.

On Friday, they set April 27, 1994 as the date for the first South African elections under universal suffrage.

Before the ceremony, Mr. Clinton, Mr. de Klerk and Mr. Mandela posed for photographs in a courtroom in Independence Hall, across from the room where the Declaration of Independence was adopted.

"This is where the president should be on the Fourth of July, especially with Nelson Mandela and President de Klerk," Mr. Clinton said after a ceremonial ringing of the Liberty Bell. "I just think this is a celebration of freedom, not only here but around the world."

Mr. Clinton, warmly received on his nation's birthday, said: "Even after 217 years, no one can say we've gotten it all right yet." He recalled how Thomas Jefferson, referring to slavery, wrote: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."

Mr. Clinton promised South Africa U.S. economic and technical assistance.

The ceremony ended a four-day visit to the United States by Mr. de Klerk. Mr. Mandela returns to New York today, then will visit Chicago, Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Atlanta before returning to South Africa July 12.

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