Mandela Gets Star’s Welcome
Anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela came to Los Angeles Friday on the last leg of a taxing eight-city U.S. tour and in a series of addresses asked Hollywood celebrities and inner-city students alike to keep fighting against white minority-led rule in South Africa.
In a ceremony on the steps of City Hall, at a glitzy dinner and, finally, at a late-night ‘60s-style rally at a packed Coliseum, Mandela thanked Los Angeles for its “staunch” financial and political support in the crusade to end South Africa’s apartheid system.
“We could not have left the United States without visiting the city which daily nourished the dreams of millions of people the world over,” Mandela told an estimated 70,000 people who filled the Coliseum, many waving fists and chanting his name. “Many would know Los Angeles as the unchallenged capital of motion pictures, many would regard your city as the city of glamour and splendor.
“We who have suffered and continue to suffer the pain of oppression know that underneath that face of Los Angeles lies the great and noble spirit of the citizenry. We who fight for human rights know the depths of the human spirit running through the hills and valleys of the state of California.”
The reaction of the crowd to Mandela’s words was swift and strong.
“I think this is the most fantastic thing in L.A. history,” said a euphoric Victor Jackson. “L.A. has shown a unity that I didn’t think existed. Anytime you can have this many people out in the fight against apartheid it’s beautiful.”
Sharon Locke, 30, of Culver City, echoed the unity theme.
“I like the way the people in Los Angels turned out,” said Locke. “I think the unity is contagious. I really feel it.”
Earlier, at a midday ceremony at City Hall, Mandela looked weary but spoke firmly as he told several thousand people that America’s “unsung heroes” have helped to build a “powerful, broad-based” movement that is approaching victory in the struggle against South Africa’s policies of racial segregation.
Mandela was hailed by movie stars and Mayor Tom Bradley, who called him a “kindred spirit” of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.
“In our youth, Hollywood was the stuff of dreams,” Mandela said on the steps of City Hall, with actor Gregory Peck presiding over the event. “In a sense, our youthful dreams, to some extent, are being realized.”
But, he added, “We are particularly overjoyed to be in this city because Los Angeles is a staunch supporter of the anti-apartheid movement.”
In fact, Los Angeles is seen as key to tour organizers’ goal of raising millions of dollars to underwrite social and political work by Mandela’s African National Congress.
An estimated $1.2 million was raised by a reception Friday evening at the Exposition Park Armory, and 70,000 $10 tickets for a rally at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum were sold--making it a sellout crowd, organizers said.
Late Friday, tens of thousands of people flocked to the Coliseum--on foot, in buses and even in stretch limousines--to hear rap music, gospel and folk songs as a prelude to Mandela’s second Los Angeles speech. Hundreds of youths, following behind African drums mounted on a flatbed truck, marched four miles to the rally.
Scalpers outside tried to hawk tickets for $20 and vendors did a brisk T-shirt and Mandela-button business.
Turning to the thousands of youth who joined in the Coliseum rally, Mandela offered an unusually direct and personal message. He said he understood the “joy and pain” of American youth today but warned against using drugs to “escape reality.”
“We learned we could make the future bright by overcoming our own weaknesses and the weaknesses of others,” he said. “It is our common responsibility to never give up hope. We must all (work) to make the world a better place.”
The crowd gave Mandela a standing ovation.
“Most people break down in jail, but Mandela outlived a lot of the people who put him behind bars,” said Reuben White, 41, of Mandela’s 27 years in prison.
“You must have patience like that to pass the cause on to the children,” added White, a communications teacher who brought his 12-year-old son to the Coliseum rally.
While the Coliseum event was packed, the crowd that assembled earlier for Mandela’s midday address at City Hall was considerably smaller than the throng of well-wishers that organizers had hoped for.
Los Angeles County Fire Department officials estimated that 4,000 to 5,000 people gathered at City Hall; the police, who first estimated crowd size at 3,000, later revised the figure to about 15,000.
“How it got from 2,500 at 12:30 to 15,000 (two hours later), I can’t explain,” Los Angeles Police Lt. Fred Nixon said.
Whichever the figure, it fell far short of the 30,000 that organizers were predicting. When the Dodgers won the World Series in 1988, an estimated 70,000 people crowded City Hall.
City officials and program organizers said they were not overly concerned about the turnout.
On the political front, the Los Angeles City Council, seizing on Mandela’s visit, voted Friday to close loopholes in a city measure that will keep the city from doing business with companies that have ties to South Africa.
Mandela, who turns 72 next month, said his 12-day odyssey through the United States, where he has addressed huge crowds in Harlem, laid a wreath at King’s grave and met with President Bush, has been “exhausting but exhilarating.”
“Wherever we went, we were met with the milk of human kindness,” he said.
“We believe that the finest tribute we can pay to your wonderful, warm, generous and compassionate people is to intensify the anti-apartheid struggle on all fronts,” Mandela added.
Mandela arrived midday, about two hours late, aboard a chartered Trump Shuttle which landed at a remote tarmac of the Los Angeles International Airport. He then sped to City Hall in a motorcade as his security entourage closed the eastbound lanes of the Santa Monica freeway.
Reaching City Hall, Mandela met briefly with Bradley in private, then emerged to see the crowd.
Throughout the morning, rumors circulated that concern over Mandela’s stamina would force organizers to pare back the tour.
They considered canceling his last stop, Oakland, but decided to go ahead with it, a source on the welcoming committee said.
However, his schedule in Los Angeles is being curtailed. According to the committee source, Mandela’s doctor had insisted he skip the City Hall event, while organizers insisted he appear. In addition to his age and unrelenting schedule, Mandela recently underwent surgery for the removal of a benign cyst from his bladder.
Compromise was reached when it was agreed that Mandela would omit a scheduled speech before the City Council but would appear before the waiting crowd, which had begun gathering early.
As Mandela moved across a platform outside City Hall, the audience chanted “Nelson” and “Amandla"--the Zulu word for “power"--but then grew impatient as local politicians took their turns to speak--finally booing Bradley and City Council President John Ferraro as each took a turn at the microphone.
In addition to Peck, the star-studded roster of dignitaries included Sidney Poitier, Dionne Warwick, Robert Guillaume, Cicely Tyson and Muhammad Ali.
But despite the impressive list of luminaries, there was no mistaking the star of the show.
“Nothing’s going to stop me from getting a snapshot of him--not even the FBI,” vowed Ann Marie Dumas, 21, of Glendale, clutching a disposable camera on the steps of City Hall. “I’m gonna blow it up, put it in a frame and hang it in my living room--right next to my world map and picture of Martin Luther King Jr.”
On 1st Street in front of the stage, standing atop a bus shelter, six young men and a small boy unfurled a blue banner that said, “Greetings Mandela From the Homeless.”
Hermine Johnigan, a 64-year-old retired schoolteacher from Los Angeles, had the privilege of shaking Mandela’s hand on the Spring Street steps of City Hall. She was one of about 50 members off Los Angelenas, a volunteer organization of women who work with the city protocol office. Wearing yellow dresses, the women lined the red carpet that Mandela followed up the steps to City Hall.
“It made me feel very humble. It made me feel very good that I am living in this century to witness the changes in relations between blacks and whites,” said Johnigan, who is black.
Johnigan said she firmly grasped Mandela’s hand. “I took both of his hands and said, ‘We’ve been waiting a long time, God bless you.’ And he said, ‘Thank you.’ ”
“I’m not going to wash this hand for a week,” she said.
The crowd that heard Mandela at City Hall had to deal with rigidly zealous security guards, blocked-off streets, a poor acoustical system and intense sunshine--factors that may have kept people away.
Darlene Donloe, a spokeswoman for the local Mandela Reception Committee, said she was “not at all” disappointed in the crowd size--one of the smallest public gatherings of the U.S. tour.
Some organizers said Mandela’s late arrival--after the lunch hour had concluded--and rampant rumors he might not go to City Hall until late in the afternoon may have contributed to the turnout.
Security surrounding Mandela’s arrival was tight. Police and State Department security agents roped off City Hall, inspected the area with bomb-sniffing dogs and required anyone entering the building to go through a metal detector.
Later, security agents conducted body searches of people arriving at the Coliseum. But no incidents were reported.
The crowd was fairly subdued until rappers Tone Loc and Ice-T took the stage. Thousands of fans waved clenched fists and danced at their seats.
Pepe Fernandez, a 65-year-old black Cuban immigrant who attended the rally, reflected on his civil rights work in Texas during the ‘50s and ‘60s.
“With all the struggles I’ve seen in the South, I know what it takes for a black man to succeed,” Fernandez said. “There will be a time when people in this country will realize that the color of a man’s skin means nothing.”
Alabama native Charles Smith, 69, sat in his wheelchair at a far end of the Coliseum.
“We suffered, but not as much as Mandela,” Smith said, comparing the old American South with today’s South Africa. “No one in America can say they suffered as much as the people in South Africa, as bad as the South was.”
Early in the evening, a small twin-engine plane circled above the Coliseum, trailing a banner that said, “Palestinians Welcome Mandela.”
Mandela, who has angered some Jewish groups with his stated support for Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, met Friday evening with Natan Sharansky, the former Refusenik who was jailed for eight years in the Soviet Union.
Mandela came to Los Angeles from Detroit, where he spoke to about 50,000 people at Tiger Stadium Thursday night. At dawn Friday, he took a stroll wearing a cap and jacket from the NBA champion Detroit Pistons.
Asked in Detroit about his health, Mandela said he felt fine, flashing two thumbs-up signs.
“If you want to test this, just bring some boxing gloves,” he told reporters.
Times staff writers Darrell Dawsey, Jane Fritsch, Scott Kraft, Louis Sahagun, Faye Fiore, Marc Lacey, Hector Tobar, John Lee and Chris Willman contributed to this report.
MORE MANDELA COVERAGE: B1, B3, B4