Exiles’ Cheers Greet Mandela on Zambia Visit : Africa: The ANC leader leaves South Africa for the first time in a quarter century. He says he wants to meet ‘heroes’ in the fight against apartheid.
Freed black nationalist Nelson R. Mandela, launching his first foreign journey in a quarter century, arrived at African National Congress headquarters here Tuesday to an emotional welcome from South African exiles, few of whom had ever laid eyes on the man they consider their leader.
Lauding the thousands of ANC members who live and work in the southern African country, Mandela said he was “looking forward to meeting the heroes I have looked to during my last 27 years in prison.”
The ANC, the primary guerrilla group fighting Pretoria, was banned in South Africa two years before Mandela was jailed in 1962, and it has operated from offices here for well over a decade. It now is making plans for a gradual return home following President Frederik W. de Klerk’s decision to legalize it.
Mandela’s trip brought him into the fold of black-ruled nations in Africa who have fought to maintain world pressure on Pretoria to end racial segregation and give the black majority a vote in national affairs. Zambian President Kenneth D. Kaunda and six other African heads of state greeted Mandela, his wife, Winnie, and their delegation at the airport.
“Viva, Mandela, Viva!” cried hundreds of ANC supporters who gathered at the airport and lined parts of the 15-mile road into town. The 71-year-old leader waded into the crowd to greet groups of school children and women as they sang songs praising him.
“The people of Africa are waiting to hear from you,” said Kaunda, who as a leader of the so-called “front-line states"--countries surrounding South Africa--has been one of the ANC’s most outspoken supporters over the years.
“It’s a special moment for all of us,” added the president, meeting Mandela for the first time. “We love you. We respect you. We consider you a leader of the ANC, a leader of the South African people (and also) our leader.”
Mandela thanked Kaunda for “playing the role of peacemaker under difficult conditions.” Kaunda has met with De Klerk and his predecessor, Pieter W. Botha, to persuade him to talk with the ANC, and this impoverished capital has been a second home for the organization.
From Lusaka, the ANC’s “remarkable team of men have built the organization into a powerful force,” Mandela said. “They have loved and directed our people to the point where we feel we are on the edge of a breakthrough in our struggle for freedom.”
Zambia is the first stop on an 18-day trip that will take the Mandelas and their colleague, Walter Sisulu, to Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Sweden. He plans to meet for the first time with the ANC’s 35-member Executive Committee here later in the week.
Among topics for discussion will be the upcoming meeting between the ANC and De Klerk in South Africa and what role Mandela will play in the liberation movement.
Mandela’s delegation will visit ANC military training camps and educational facilities in Tanzania. He will be reunited with ANC President Oliver R. Tambo, his former law partner, in Sweden, where Tambo is in a hospital recovering from a stroke.
In his speech Tuesday, Mandela asked for help from foreign nations, saying that the government’s surprise decision to drop the ban on the ANC had “brought us a host of problems” as the group prepares to move its operations back home.
Among those on hand for Mandela’s arrival and a state banquet Tuesday night in his honor were foreign ministers of the nine-member Commonwealth Special Committee on Southern Africa, and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, who was warmly greeted by Mandela.
“Like us, he is fighting against a unique form of colonization,” Mandela said, “and we wish him success in his struggle.”
Mandela’s last trip outside South Africa began with a clandestine border crossing shortly before his arrest in 1962. He traveled then on an Ethiopian visa.