Mandela's Homecoming Spurs Hopes for a Better Life

AN air of hope and expectation permeates this sprawling township - the home of 2 million black South Africans.

''I think it is a great thing for all South Africans that Nelson Mandela has been freed,'' says Pepsi Raborifi, a black carpenter who lives in Soweto's Diepkloof neighborhood. ''He will ... bring about changes acceptable to white and black South Africans.''

Standing at the bustling taxi stand opposite Soweto's massive Baragwanath Hospital, Mr. Raborifi expresses a view prevalent among the ordinary people of Soweto. 

Raborifi was one of about 140,000 people who packed Soweto's Soccer City stadium on Tuesday to hear Mr. Mandela's first address to the people of Johannesburg.

For the supporters of the African National Congress (ANC), it was a triumphant moment. But beyond ANC ranks, hundreds of thousands of South Africans - including many whites - were also looking to Mandela for a way out of the quagmire of racial conflict and violence. 

Mandela made a moderate speech, in which he was as insistent about the necessity for discipline and unity within the anti-apartheid movement as he was about the need to eradicate apartheid.

''It is discipline and loyalty that will liberate us,'' he told the biggest political rally in the country's history.

Mandela endorsed the struggle against housing shortages, inferior education, and unemployment, singling out education as the top priority for the community. ''All children must return to school and learn,'' he said to applause and cheers.

Mandela deplored the high level of crime in Soweto and called for decisive action to end ''the mindless violence. ...

''It is only disciplined mass action that assures us the victory we seek,'' he said.

Most of the people interviewed by the Monitor in Soweto Wednesday welcomed Mandela's tough stand and expressed the hope that his moral authority would succeed.

''We are tired of violence and mayhem,'' said David Baki, a hawker from the Meadowlands neighborhood of Soweto. ''We have suffered a lot because of apartheid but I don't hate the white man.''

Like many South Africans, Mr. Baki regards Mandela as a true national leader, although he would not count himself as an ANC supporter. ''I am not sure if I would vote for the ANC if there was an open election,'' he said. ''I am not sure where it stands on communism and I hate communism.''

The major preoccupations of those interviewed were education, employment, housing, and apartheid in that order.

''The main thing we are fighting for is better education,'' said 14-year-old Edward Rampya, who had just walked past the tiny Mandela home in Vilikazi Street, Orlando West.

As he spoke, thousands of black teachers demonstrated outside the office of the Department of Education and Training in downtown Johannesburg, demanding an end to overcrowding of classes and inferior facilities.

The sheer demographic scale of the migration of blacks to the cities - which has accelerated dramatically with the scrapping of the pass laws in 1986 - has pushed the government to encourage an urbanization policy.

In Soweto today, middle-class housing projects are growing. Roads are being tarred, bridges and overpasses are under construction. Neatly manicured gardens are emerging in what was once a barren oasis.

Hawkers, back-door hairdressers, and food stores - known as spaza shops - advertise their products from matchbox-like houses in every street.

Economists estimate that this activity, known as the informal sector, accounts for between 30 and 40 percent of the gross national product and offers the economy's best hope for growth.

The mood in Soweto is one of hope and generosity toward President Frederik de Klerk.

''De Klerk is a great man and he is a brave man,'' said Edward Rampya, wearing a pullover in the ANC colors. ''He has given us back our leader and our organization. He is a man who thinks for himself.''

But Raborifi says that the changes will be slow, because of growing resistance from extreme right-wing whites.

''The right wingers are full of hate,'' he said. ''They claim to be religious and in favor of democracy, but they are not democrats. They want to perpetuate totalitarian rule in the name of protecting white interests.''

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