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Friday, June 22, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mandela: A Man Of Controversy -- Anc Leader Praises Plo, Libya, Cuba

Times News Services

NEW YORK - On his second day in the United States, Nelson Mandela showed why he is not only one of the world's most admired figures, but also one of the most controversial.

At a town hall meeting in Harlem televised nationally last night, the deputy president of the African National Congress praised Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He called them ``comrades in arms'' in black South Africa's struggle against the white minority government.

Mandela said the three leaders, viewed as enemies by the U.S. government, have been friends in need to the ANC, which is seeking to end apartheid's policy of racial separation in South Africa.

Mandela's comments, on the second day of an eight-city U.S. tour that is to take him to Washington Sunday, seemed all the more controversial because the rest of his New York visit has been wrapped in a cocoon of celebratory rhetoric and cheering.

Arafat, Gadhafi and Castro ``support our struggle to the hilt,'' he said. ``There is no reason whatsoever why we should have any hesitation about hailing their commitment to human rights.''

Mandela said his attitude toward any country is shaped by that country's support of the anti-apartheid movement.

``They fully support our struggle, not only with rhetoric, but by putting resources at our disposal,'' he said.

Mandela's support of the PLO has angered U.S. Jewish leaders and prompted demonstrations against him here.

``Our support for Yasser Arafat does not mean the ANC has ever doubted the right of Israel to exist as a state legally,'' he said, adding, ``We do not mean Israel has the right to retain the territories they conquered from the Arab world.''

Mandela made the remarks in response to questions from the audience and from ABC-TV moderator Ted Koppel.

Mandela showed he could hold his own against Koppel, who is considered a tough interrogator.

When Koppel asked why the U.S. and other countries should not reward South African President F.W. de Klerk for freeing Mandela and other prisoners and making other reforms, Mandela said, ``I should know better about this matter, Mr. Koppel, than you.''

Mandela said it was the ANC, backed by the pressure of Western sanctions, that brought about the reforms. But he stressed that blacks still cannot vote.

Koppel said he was surprised that Mandela had spoken forthrightly about his ties with Arafat, Gadhafi and Castro. Koppel said there was ``likely to be a negative reaction'' among some members of Congress who have it in their power to lift the sanctions on South Africa.

Koppel said not only Jews would be offended, but so would Cuban-Americans, who don't share Mandela's views of Castro.

Mandela disagreed. He said it was wrong to base a policy on any one group's attitude.

Elsewhere on his New York agenda, it was a story of politics and celebration.

His second day in the U.S. was in sharp contrast to the first - with tough political talk and strong emotions as South Africa's anti-apartheid fighter connected with the African-American heartland.

In Harlem, it was clenched fists and shouts of ``Amandla,'' the Zulu word for ``power.'' Every time Mandela yelled it, the crowd responded ever louder, ``To the people.''

``To our people, Harlem symbolizes strength and beauty in resistance,'' Mandela said at the early evening rally. ``There is an umbilical cord that ties us together, so let us act in unity.''

Winnie Mandela, caught up in the spirit of the moment, embraced Betty Shabazz, widow of Malcolm X. The women wept in each other's arms on the dais, and many in the crowd wept, too.

Winnie Mandela compared Harlem to the largest of South Africa's black townships:

``I greet you all here in the Soweto of America,'' she said.

Mandela's day stretched from an Upper West Side ecumenical church service to a rally at Yankee Stadium, where the exuberance rivaled that of rallies in the black townships of South Africa.

He was joined by African-American politicians and clergymen who angrily denounced racism in the United States.

The emotional and political tone began at Riverside Church, Mandela's first appearance. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, in a prayer of thanksgiving, asked for forgiveness ``of the U.S. government, which continues to import steel and iron from South Africa.''

The Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, in introducing Mandela as a ``drum major in the music of freedom,'' said he had ``preached in South Africa and was born in the American South . . . and I can tell you that our nation by precept and example taught South Africa the structure of apartheid.''

The attacks on the United States and its relationship with South Africa got stronger when Mandela reached Harlem.

There, a throng estimated by police at 80,000 crowded around African Square Center. They heard speaker after speaker follow in the tradition for passion and controversy of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and others who had spoken in the same location.

Others touched on the high infant mortality rate among African-Americans, racism and the inability to stop the flow of drugs into the African-American community.

At Yankee Stadium, Mandela told a crowd of 55,000, most of them paying $5 to $25 per ticket to benefit the ANC, that he always knew Americans were thinking of him when he was imprisoned.

-- Compiled from reports by Newhouse News Service, Knight-Ridder Newspapers and Associated Press.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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