FOR a moment, the unmistakable gray-haired figure stands alone on a street corner of the squalid Ivory Park squatter camp in this sprawling black township northeast of Johannesburg.
Then suddenly the residents of Tembisa throng around, hoping to shake the hand of the man destined to be South Africa's first black president: Nelson Mandela.
``Good to meet you,'' he said in a deep and authoritative voice that often leaves people at a loss for words. ``Nice to see you.''
After this spontaneous walk-about, Mr. Mandela's bodyguards whisk him off to the main event, a town hall-style meeting that is characteristic of the African National Congress (ANC) campaign leading up to the country's first nonracial ballot in April.
At the meeting, set in a hilltop marquee, people are invited to ask questions and share their concerns with Mandela. The ANC hopes to heal the divisions that have emerged between the ANC leadership and its grass roots during four long years of talks, and to create a culture of democracy within the ANC that mirrors the relationship between an African chief and his subjects. The ANC also hopes to use such meetings to draw up an election manifesto that reflects the needs of ordinary people.
Mandela, a super-fit 75-year-old, is a natural campaigner. As he enters the Tembisa marquee he breaks into a broad smile. ``One president,'' shouts the master of ceremony. ``One Mandela,'' roars the crowd of several thousand, dancing and singing as Mandela enters and gives them the familiar salute of black power.
The questions are about basic needs: housing, sewers, electricity, affirmative action, and economic empowerment. The theme is the same: Will black South Africans get from a black government what they have been denied by a white one?
Mandela commits the transitional government to addressing the needs of the people, but warns that improvements will not come overnight. With empowerment comes responsibility.
``Although our top priority is blacks, you are the face of the ANC and we want you to behave with discipline,'' Mandela says, adding that racial attacks prevent white social workers, and others who can help in black upliftment, from entering the townships. ``You must have the courage to give leadership. The test of a leader is to be able to tell people what is right even if the truth is bitter.''
Two days earlier at the Johannesburg College of Education, Mandela faced a very different audience and a very different task.
The audience of about 600 represented a racial and socioeconomic cross-section of society, from Reserve Bank Governor Chris Stals to domestic and municipal workers in their uniforms.
In the presence of whites, who worry that they have much to lose from black rule, Mandela had to persuade blacks that they were going to have a better life and that affordable housing, decent education, and welfare services were going to be a reality.
White questioners wanted to know how government was going to find the funds to make good the socioeconomic backlog of apartheid. Would taxes skyrocket; would white pensions be secure; how would the ANC create jobs?
``No country that has been through a traumatic experience has been able to avoid state intervention,'' Mandela explained. ``Apartheid is a traumatic experience. It was like a war and is still like a war for the majority of our population.''
For the blacks in the audience he tried to establish the interdependence of black and white in the workplace. It was not going to be easy to persuade whites to accept the need to bring blacks to the same level as whites, he said.
``The whites are a critical element in solving our socioeconomic problems,'' Mandela explained. ``We need them to help us raise blacks to the same level as the white population.''
And then to the whites he said: ``You can raise the level of blacks without threatening the position of the minorities.''