Nelson Mandela, sounding a conciliatory note on South Africa's fledgling peace process, told The Times on Saturday that the African National Congress would be willing to compromise with the government on all disputed issues except voting rights for blacks and the end of apartheid.
"Once you decide to negotiate, compromise is always possible," the ANC deputy president said. "There can be no compromise on the demand for one-person, one-vote and the total scrapping of apartheid in all its forms. But all others are subject to compromise . . . and negotiation."
President Frederik W. de Klerk has been trying to get black leaders to help him draw up a constitution that will end apartheid and give the country's 27 million blacks, who outnumber the ruling whites 5 to 1, a vote.
However, De Klerk opposes a countrywide multiracial election to select those who will sit at the negotiating table, as has been demanded by the ANC. And the president also says the constitution will have to guarantee that the white minority be protected from what he calls "black domination."
Mandela, wearing a dark blue suit, appeared rested during the interview, conducted by five Times editors and reporters in his suite at the Biltmore just before he departed for Oakland, the last stop on his 11-day American tour.
In the interview, Mandela also predicted that his lobbying efforts in the United States would improve the ANC's bargaining position back home. He said he was surprised by the magnitude of American support for his black liberation movement and maintained that the ANC was more united today than it has ever been in its history.
Q: Is there anything about the United States that has surprised you as you have traveled across it?
MANDELA: The most striking impression . . . in the course of my visit to the United States is the warmth of its people and the unswerving support for our struggle. . . . I knew in very broad outline that the people of the United States of America condemned apartheid and were prepared to resort to specific measures . . . to dismantle it. But the extent to which I am aware of that now is beyond words.
Q: In terms of sanctions, under what circumstances might you be willing to use sanctions as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Mr. De Klerk?
MANDELA: We are negotiating now with the government, and it is possible for us to negotiate on anything that is a problem facing South Africa, and sanctions is one of those problems. We have made our position very clear, that until profound and irreversible changes take place, sanctions will remain in place. But we are negotiating and it is quite possible that we might reach a stage where it might be necessary to negotiate on the question of sanctions with the South African government.
Q: Do you see yourself anywhere near that stage at this point?
MANDELA: No, it's premature to talk about that now because the main pillars of apartheid are still in place.
Q: All of those would have to come down?
MANDELA: No, not necessarily. Our basic position is that until fundamental and irreversible changes take place, we will maintain sanctions. But as I pointed out, these are questions for negotiation, and it is possible to negotiate even on the question of sanctions.
Q: How long do you think it will be before the ANC and the government begin getting into substantive negotiations?
MANDELA: Well, I think that in the very next meeting we will get into negotiations in the sense of disposing of obstacles to negotiations. We have reached agreement that all obstacles should go. So I don't think there is going to be any problem in our next meeting. So what we are going to address is the question of how to identify people who are going to negotiate. That is going to be the big issue at the next meeting.
Q: Is there room for compromise on that issue?
MANDELA: Once you decide to negotiate, compromise is always possible. There is only one issue on which there can be no compromise, that is the demand for one-person, one-vote and the total scrapping of apartheid in all its forms. There can be no compromise on those two. But all others are subject to compromise (and) negotiation.
Q: About the ANC itself, do you have any concerns about some of the younger members, perhaps some who are angry and impatient, and of factions forming in the ANC between younger and older members.
MANDELA: I am aware of no factions. At no time has the ANC been so united as it is at the present time. There are many young people in senior positions in the ANC. And the relations between ANC and the youth are very good. . . . I don't understand where the rumor arises that there is any friction between the younger people and the leadership. Of course, the youth of our country are also suffering from the influence (of events) taking place around our own borders. They have seen the youth of Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe and now Namibia change. And they have been inspired by this and they want the same changes in South Africa. They also see their white counterparts in the country enjoying a style of life totally different from theirs, and they must be angry about the situation. But to think that their anger is directed at any particular aspect of our policy is a complete mistake. There is no such thing. The youth are with us.
Q: Do you think your trip here and around the rest of the world will have any impact on negotiations?
MANDELA: Well, why not? Because we have got far more support than Mr. De Klerk has been able to get. After meeting most of the heads of state or heads of government in Europe, we addressed a meeting in Strasbourg, they voted in favor of a resolution maintaining sanctions by 177 votes to 47. That meant both the liberals and conservatives . . . supported our cause. In the United States of America, both the President and secretary of state as well as the masses of people in the country have expressly assured us that sanctions will be maintained. And we have no doubt that that position, and the fact that we have the support of the entire world on the question of sanctions, is going to have an effect on negotiations. Because the government is as worried as ourselves that the economy in the country should not be ruined. They have spelled it out to us how the South African economy has been hit by sanctions. And one of the reasons they agreed to sit down with us and have discussions is because sanctions are biting.
Q: What is your impression of Los Angeles?
MANDELA: Tremendous. My delegation and I have been tremendously impressed by the type of reception that we have received from people of all walks of life, from workers to intellectuals to artists and leaders of local government. The support has been fantastic, and we are greatly encouraged by that.