Boston — Nelson Mandela is a world hero, an African messiah, and ``my loving father'' to Makaziwe Phumla Mandela, his oldest daughter. To the white leaders of the Republic of South Africa, Nelson Mandela is a rebel, president of the banned African National Congress, a black African dissident who has been confined to prison for 21 years on charges of treason.
Miss Mandela does not recall having a father-daughter talk with him until she was 16 years old, and he was in jail. She was only nine when he was imprisoned in 1964, and before that she saw him only briefly, because he was always a fugitive on the run. She is Mandela's oldest daughter by his first wife, Evelyn. She rarely sees her father personally, but they are close because they write each other regularly.
Her father is the one black who can end the racial strife that besets the white-controlled government of South Africa, she says.
She points to the United States as a modern example of how a nation can end a system of harsh racial segregation -- which is called apartheid in South Africa -- and create an atmosphere for racial harmony.
Carefully selecting her words, she refuses to discuss specific American policies toward South Africa. ``Your government seems to listen to black people,'' she says.
``You seem to settle your problems peacefully. The South African government decides to delay action. Reaction is not so peaceful.''
She advises American people to divest their investments in South Africa. ``Sanctions are effective,'' Miss Mandela says. ``We want to free ourselves. Divestiture helps. I would like to see American capitalists, American churches, American people join in this movement.
``I'm not a member of the African National Congress, but I feel as they do -- the black man in Africa will be free one day!''
Makaziwe Mandela speaks in hopeful words about her native South Africa. ``I know that America has survived the crisis of racial strife,'' she said in an interview.
``What I see here gives me hope that I'll see the same in South Africa, too.
``In the United States I see whites; I see blacks. They work together on jobs. They learn together in school. They eat together in public dining places. They walk the streets, and nobody steps aside for another because of race,'' says Miss Mandela, who is in the US as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
Her father will accept freedom from his life sentence only if his release is unconditional, Miss Mandela says. Describing her father as stately, tall, and strong, she whispers:
``He spreads an aura. . . . People believe in my father so much that they have made him a semi-god, a special being. He has not lost his spirit, although his family home is raided, and my stepmother [second wife, Winnie] lives under pressure.''
Miss Mandela sees her father as a Christian parent. ``My father is a Christian,'' she says. ``He encouraged me to go back to school. He told me I can't help our people unless I'm educated.'' She holds degrees from two colleges in South Africa.
``He's our leader until he dies,'' she says of her father's determination to accept release only on his terms. ``He is not a violent man, but he will fight on. He believes in peaceful change, but his attempts to negotiate have been turned down. He will never give up. He is a black man committed to lead the black cause. This is an opportunity other people do not have.''
Miss Mandela says she believes the South African government wants to set her father free but has not been willing to meet his conditions.
His terms for freedom, she says, are release to his family home in Soweto and unrestricted movement throughout the nation. The government proposes that he renounce violence and return to his native Transkei, a designated black homeland headed by his nephew, Kaiser Mantanzima. Transkei is the birthplace of the Mandela family, but Nelson's family home is in Soweto where his second wife, Winnie, lives.
Miss Mandela does not identify herself as a political person or as an activist. When she returns to her homeland, she says, her mission will be to work in black communities with people, help African women upgrade their status, and serve her family.
She has a husband, Isaac Amuah, also enrolled in college in the US, and three children, ages 11, 9, and 20 months. They are adjusting to life American style, she says, while she majors in women's studies and sociology.
``I don't like the kind of attention I get,'' Miss Mandela says of her first six months in the United States. ``It's too much! When I came here, I had an image, an impression of this country -- the people are rich. It's a democratic country. Being here, however, I see some people are poor.''
Returning home will not be difficult, she says. ``I've never been detained by the South African government. . . . When I applied for a passport, it took a year to process, but I really had no problems. . . .
``My duty after college will not be in politics. It will be to help people,'' she says.
``I perceive a need to raise the level of African women. In my country women are inferior by law. The African National Congress, however, has set a pattern of giving women leadership roles from the outset.''
During the past year Miss Mandela worked among her own people in her homeland. ``This work pricked my conscience,'' she says.
``I saw poverty and starvation in a land where people had little education, no jobs. People were apathetic waiting for a white man to offer them jobs.
``When men leave the area for a job, African women are responsible for the family. They are noble and highly respected in spite of their legal standing. I don't have to be political to help them. I know when I return home, I can help African women know that they can learn and become educated. I know African men will have to appreciate what women can do to help us all achieve freedom.''
The last time Miss Mandela saw her father was July 7, 1985. This visit was not like the first time she saw him in prison.
``Our first meeting was difficult with him behind bars,'' she says. ``We were not separated by bars last July. We talked, but not about politics. That's forbidden. When our 45 minutes were up, we hugged each other. He left me with his usual farewell, `Come back and see me again, darling.' ''