ANC leader Nelson Mandela, celebrating his first Christmas at home in nearly 30 years, appealed to South Africans today to work for peace so blacks never again spend the holiday “in chains.”
In Pretoria, ANC President Oliver Tambo met for the first time with President F. W. de Klerk today. The meeting was described as a “courtesy visit.” Afterward, Tambo told reporters he hoped that South Africa would have a “full recovery from apartheid” by Christmas next year.
An Information Ministry statement said De Klerk wished Tambo continued recovery from a severe stroke he suffered in August, 1989, and said both agreed violence must end for proper negotiations to begin.
Speaking to reporters in his Soweto home, Mandela recalled his first Christmas in the notorious Robben Island prison, where he was sent after being convicted of plotting against the government and sentenced to life in prison.
Inmates were not permitted family visits, and celebration was limited to eating sweets provided by the church, Mandela said.
He paused, then said with a smile, “I’ve never cared for sweets in my life, but in prison I thought that they were very delectable indeed.”
As years went by, he said, conditions improved. Prisoners were allowed to order special groceries and created their own celebrations.
“But that is nothing compared to what I look forward to at the moment, when I am able to celebrate Christmas as a free man,” said Mandela, who was freed from prison in February.
Mandela, deputy president of the African National Congress, read a 2 1/2-page message in which he lamented continuing political violence but expressed optimism for a peaceful future.
“The South Africa so many have sacrificed so much to achieve is in sight,” he said, and he urged people of all political ties to “persist in their noble efforts” to solve the nation’s problems peacefully. “Let us vow never to celebrate another Christmas in chains,” he said.
Mandela did not mention the government or De Klerk but appeared to direct his message at them when he said:
“Our thoughts turn to all those others in the country who will not be with their families; those who are still held as political detainees and prisoners. . . . I also refer to the thousands of our people who are still in exile, who, like the prisoners, had hoped that in light of the changes taking place in our country, they too would be spending Christmas with their relatives.”