Mandela visit marks return of Bophuthatswana

March 16, 1994|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

MMABATHO, South Africa -- The soaring, incongruous bleachers of Independence Stadium rise above this modern capital like the remnants of some vanished civilization. Nelson Mandela's visit yesterday showed that in some ways that is exactly what it is.

Perhaps two-thirds of the stadium's 60,000 seats were filled, but it probably represented the biggest crowd ever in this decade-old structure.

They had come to see the African National Congress (ANC) president, who blitzed through Bophuthatswana to mark the return of the "independent" homeland to South Africa.

During the day, he passed reminders of last week's five-day battle among right-wing adventurers, demonstrators, and police and soldiers from Bophuthatswana and South Africa. The battle led to the removal of Lucas Mangope, Bophuthatswana's president.

A burned-out car stood at the entrance to the university amid rocks left from barricades. The charred remains of a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet were across the street from Megacity, a shopping center stripped bare by looters.

As Mr. Mandela and his entourage made their way to visit the family of one of the black victims of the chaos, they drove by the spot where three white right-wingers died, two executed by a Bophuthatswana policeman as they lay wounded next to the bullet-riddled car that had brought them to this battle between the old and new South Africa.

Mr. Mandela went to the elaborate grounds of the South African embassy, the only one in this capital of a "country" created to deny blacks of the Tswana tribe South African citizenship. He paid a call on Ambassador Tjaart van der Walt, who was named to take over administration of the area from Mr. Mangope.

Throughout the day, Mr. Mandela's motorcade was greeted with smiling faces and clenched fists raised by people now able to vote in the April 26-28 election that Mr. Mangope had rejected.

Mr. Mandela's largest crowd was at the stadium, constructed with South African funds as one of the many homeland showcases. It houses an immaculate soccer field, surrounded by a beautiful Olympic-quality track. But some of its upper decks are built at such odd angles that they don't even face the field.

Like Mmabatho's huge convention center it seemed totally out of scale with its surroundings, built to impress, not to use.

When Mr. Mandela's motorcade entered the stadium, he was greeted with the type of enthusiasm that has become commonplace at his campaign appearances, but has been unknown here.

During his speech, his loudest cheer came when he referred to the deaths of the right-wingers.

"The ultra-right was given a lesson by the Bophuthatswana police and defense force, a lesson they will never forget," he said. "They were chased out and humiliated.

"These were peace-time heroes. It will happen to them in the future if they try again."

At a news conference later, he refused to condemn the policeman who shot the two wounded members of the neo-Nazi AWB.

"More than 70 people died here over the last three days. I do not know why I am asked about only twopeople," he said. "We must be concerned with everybody who was killed in cold blood, whether white or black."

His speech contained a thinly veiled reference to Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who heads the self-governing homeland of KwaZulu and is keeping his Inkatha Freedom Party out of the election.

"The people have risen, and a tyrant has fallen and vanished from the political scene," he said. "This lesson is not lost on people living under toy tyrants in this country."

Such statements brought Mr. Mandela applause. But the stadium was silent when he took the people to task for the widespread looting.

"I must condemn in the strongest terms the looting that took place here. . . . I hope this is the last time we witness such behavior," he said.

As Mr. Mandela spoke, the stadium began emptying out. Many had sat for hours under a blistering sun. After the catharsis of seeing their hero, they did not seem to want to sit still for what amounted to a lecture, not only about looting, but also about current government structures, even a bit of voter education.

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