NELSON MANDELA'S American visit has featured smiles, salutes, dinners, even dancing. But his message has been full of steel. Over and over, in his soft, lawyerly voice, Mr. Mandela has said that apartheid is doomed and that economic sanctions on South Africa must be kept in place. He has been unapologetic about African National Congress (ANC) connections with Libya, Cuba, and the Palestine Liberation Organization. He has declined to fully renounce violence - rebuking President Bush on the subject to his face.
A moment revealing Mandela's conviction occurred midway through a Washington press conference. A reporter asked: Would South African President F.W. de Klerk be able to undermine Mandela's influence if he visits the United States as scheduled sometime this summer?
``We are here saying that apartheid is an evil system, it must be destroyed,'' said Mandela, coolly. ``He cannot answer that.''
This does not mean that Mandela's contacts with the United States government during the Washington portion of his trip were tinged with hostility. Mr. Bush spoke admiringly of Mandela's speaking ability, among other things. ``No notes,'' said Bush. ``That's wonderful.
Most members of Congress seemed as excited to see him as were the bike messengers and office workers who lined his motorcade route. Black members of Congress were especially thrilled. ``To be there, to see him, to have him thank members of the Congressional Black Caucus, makes my lifetime in politics worthwhile,'' said Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York.
A few lawmakers protested Mandela's visit by staying away. Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina wasn't there. Neither was Rep. William Dannemeyer (R) of California, who compared the South African black leader to 1960s US revolutionary H. Rap Brown.
Mandela was only the third foreign private citizen to ever address a joint session of Congress, the others being Poland's Lech Walesa and the Marquis de Lafayette. And he was the first black private citizen, foreign or domestic, accorded that honor.
In his address, he made a point of emphasizing something the US government wants to hear: his dedication to a mixed economy for South Africa's future, despite his past statements of socialist views.
The ANC isn't committed to a policy of nationalization of industry, Mandela told Congress. They are ``committed to the creation of the situation in which business people, both South African and foreign, have confidence in the security of their investments.''
Mandela held out a vision not of black revenge, but of a multi-racial society ``where the black shall to the white be sister and brother.'' But he added that only fools would believe the road ahead for South Africa is without major hurdles. ``Too many among our white compatriots are slaves in the ideology of racism to admit easily that change must come,'' he said.
The touchy question of renunciation of violence dogged Mandela throughout his Washington swing, and seemed to exasperate him. He said several times that the ANC refusal to completely renounce violence was ``not an issue,'' since 1986 armed operations had been scaled back as negotiations with the South African government heated up.
President Bush, at a public ceremony greeting Mandela June 25, urged the ANC to go beyond cessation of hostilities and publicly renounce violence. In his public replay, Mandela simply waved aside the request, saying Bush ``has not as yet gotten a proper briefing from us'' on the violence question.
The Bush administration continues to feel that Mandela should formally renounce the armed struggle, said Assistant Secretary of State Herman Cohen at a briefing for reporters.
However, ``to the extent that Mr. Mandela says that violence will be suspended, we applaud that,'' Mr. Cohen said.
Differences on this question of renunciation of violence could hold up a final installment of US government funds intended to help development of democracy in South Africa.
About $32 million in aid has already been allocated to South Africa by Congress. It is being used for such things as scholarships, community organizations, and relief for apartheid victims, according to Assistant Secretary Cohen.
Some $10 million more is being considered, but under legislation passed by Congress it is available only to groups that ``accept a suspension of violence in the context of the negotiations.'' State Department lawyers have yet to determine if ANC statements to date fulfill that condition.
In any case, the US government wouldn't give money directly to the ANC - something Mandela requested. The $10 million would be channeled to the quasi-official National Endowment for Democracy, which could then use the money to benefit the ANC.
``We are not likely to be providing assistance to any specific political organization directly,'' Cohen said.