President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire met with South African President Pieter W. Botha here in Mobutu’s ancestral village Saturday, and the Zairian leader said afterward that he had accepted Botha’s invitation to visit South Africa.
“Our relations are on a new path,” Mobutu said, adding that they had talked “frankly and in great depth.”
Botha said afterward that Pretoria is moving closer to convening a regional conference, including all of the black “front-line” states historically opposed to South Africa because of apartheid. “A southern African regional conference . . . is the next step,” he said.
A communique released after the meeting said that Mobutu also inquired about jailed black South African activist Nelson R. Mandela and that Botha promised he would be “flexible” about Mandela, now undergoing treatment for tuberculosis at a Cape Town nursing home.
Later, the French news agency Agence France-Presse quoted Mobutu as saying that he had obtained Mandela’s “liberation, soon and without conditions.”
Roland Darroll, a spokesman for the South African Foreign Affairs Department, denied the French report, saying in Johannesburg that Botha made no promise to release Mandela, 70, who was sentenced to life in prison in June, 1964.
In a telephone interview after his meeting with Botha, Mobutu told William Drozdiak, foreign editor of the Washington Post, that Botha vowed to free Mandela as soon as Mandela recovers from his illness.
Mobutu said the South African president gave a “solemn promise” that he will not send Mandela back to prison once he regains his health, the Post reported.
“I obtained from Botha a firm commitment that Mandela will soon be freed without any conditions, that he will be allowed to return to his home without any constraints,” Mobutu told Drozdiak by telephone from Gbadolite, which is 620 miles north of Kinshasa, Zaire’s capital.
While he declined to specify when Mandela might be released from detention, Mobutu said he was told by Botha that an important announcement might be made Monday at a National Party congress to be addressed by the South African leader, the Post reported.
Talking with reporters on his flight home, Botha gave no indication that he had gone further than the communique issued at the end of the meeting.