Mandela concedes no turf in campaign for S. African presidency

November 30, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau

IVORY PARK, South Africa -- While his opponents debated whether to take part in April's election, or rattled the swords of civil war, or were immersed in a special Parliamentary session, Nelson Mandela did what comes naturally to a candidate for his country's presidency -- he went campaigning.

Indeed, since negotiators approved a constitution 13 days ago to govern the country after its first non-racial elections, the 75-year-old Mandela has hardly had a moment's rest.

Although he was up most of the night at the session approving the constitution, he took off the next day for Natal, where his African National Congress is locked in a bitter and often deadly rivalry with the Inkatha Freedom Party of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

To walk directly from the negotiating session into what many perceive as enemy territory was clearly not a coincidence. There is going to be no "no-go" for Mr. Mandela and the ANC. He is going to look for votes wherever he can find them.

Meanwhile, Chief Buthelezi, who boycotted the final weeks of negotiations and has predicted that the new constitution will lead to civil war, is trying to decide whether to look for votes at all. The top leaders of Inkatha are said to be deeply divided over taking part in the election.

That Inkatha is not totally united was clear when the national party disavowed an action by a local branch south of Johannesburg that signed a "non-aggression" pact with Eugene TerreBlanche, leader of a white resistance group.

Mr. TerreBlanche has denounced the election, demanding a separate state for South Africa's whites. His call last week for whites to arm themselves, stealing weapons if necessary, led to several units of the South African Defense Force canceling all weekend leaves.

Throughout it all, Mr. Mandela kept campaigning, bringing his so-called People's Forums -- question-and-answer sessions that are the first stage of the ANC campaign -- to the Johannesburg region.

He answered questions from wealthy whites at a college auditorium, from migrant workers at a hostel, from union members at a gold mine, and from Indians and mixed-race coloreds in townships built for those groups under apartheid laws.

Over the weekend he came to this settlement, an appendage to the huge black township of Tembisa north of Johannesburg. Ivory Park is what's known as a squatter camp, a phenomenon of the institutionalized homelessness for millions of South Africa's blacks.

Although such camps usually begin unofficially when people start throwing up fragile shacks on vacant land, many of them eventually take on a permanent status. Some of the cardboard and corrugated tin structures are replaced by ones made of cement blocks. Informal businesses spring up. The government begins to provide outhouses and water on a limited basis.

But the roads remain deeply rutted dirt, and life for most is rarely above the level of squalor. Still, for Mr. Mandela, appearing at Ivory Park is like coming home.

That's because the ANC always has drawn its strength from the townships and squatter camps that cluster around the affluent white urban areas, providing the cities with their maids and gardeners, their construction workers and trash collectors, people for whom the inequities of apartheid were on display daily, who supported the revolutionary struggles of the ANC and are expected to vote for it in overwhelming numbers April 27.

Mr. Mandela and other ANC officials met the people of Ivory Park in a large tent erected on a vacant field. Thousands jammed the tent, and an even larger crowd gathered around, some lining up behind the two microphones to ask basic questions about housing and jobs, about clogged toilets and rutted roads.

They asked in the languages native to Africa, in Zulu, Xhosa and Sotho. Indeed, those who spoke in English were hooted down until someone on the stage reminded the crowd that the new South Africa will have 11 official languages and that all of them must be tolerated. Mr. Mandela spoke mainly in Sotho but occasionally in English, perhaps for the benefit of the television cameras.

Tokyo Sexwale, the head of the ANC in the Johannesburg region, made clear the party's position on those who talk of war.

"We shall stand together fighting for peace against all those who want to start a civil war," he told the meeting. "Whoever starts such a war must know war does not know any color, it does not know any borders."

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