Next Step : Mandela's Magic: New Tests Ahead for S. African Leader : Still extremely popular, the South African hasn't been the savior many hoped for. Now his road may narrow as his followers grow more militant amid calls for dialogue and compromise with Pretoria.

TIME STAFF WRITER

For a quarter century, he languished in apartheid's jail, his famous face hidden from all but his closest relatives and a handful of friends. Now, a year after his walk to freedom, millions upon millions around the world recognize the gently lined features of Nelson Mandela.

And still the Mandela magic, spun by his 27-year absence from the public eye and nurtured for the past year by his regal presence, shows no signs of waning.

The black liberation leader has held dozens of news conferences, yet reporters still cram into the airless conference room at African National Congress headquarters in Johannesburg to hear him. He has addressed hundreds of rallies and meetings, from Los Angeles to Tokyo to Soweto, yet he still packs the world's halls and stadiums.

The ANC facsimile machine hums with invitations from world leaders and requests for Mandela interviews and speeches.

Black and white South Africans, as well as tourists, approach Mandela in airports, elevators and on the street, surprised at his willingness to chat and even pose for souvenir photographs.

"He is so receptive, such a gentleman," marveled Bill Bubier, a tourist from Satellite Beach, Fla., who introduced himself to Mandela in the Durban airport last month. Bubier and his wife took turns with their video camera.

When Mandela first walked into the Johannesburg courtroom for his wife's kidnapping and assault trial, four black bailiffs, broad smiles on their faces and guns on their hips, approached to shake his offered hand.

"Hello, how are you?" Mandela said, smiling at men who would be considered tools of a repressive system by most ANC supporters. Although he was only a spectator, he worked the courtroom like a presidential candidate.

Mandela was heralded by many as the savior of the 28 million voteless blacks in the heady days after his release, Feb. 11, 1990. Mandela's freedom, many of them believed, would assure their own freedom from decades of repression.

It has not turned out quite that way. Mandela was not the savior many had hoped for. But he has managed to hold onto his broad support among blacks. At the same time, he has earned the respect and admiration of the white, Afrikaner-dominated government.

"I find Mr. Mandela a gentleman I can relate to," said Adriaan Vlok, the government law and order minister who put many thousands of Mandela's followers in jail without trial during the 1980s. "We have a good working relationship. If we differ, we say so."

Now, as Mandela begins his second year at the center of South Africa's political stage, he faces his greatest challenge -- how to balance the militancy and raised expectations of his followers against the need to negotiate and compromise with the government.

If his health holds up, Mandela could well be the next president of South Africa. President Frederik W. de Klerk and his Cabinet ministers say they would have no difficulty serving under a President Mandela, although they favor a power-sharing arrangement that would strip the presidency of much of its power and prevent the ANC from dominating the government.

Mandela deflects questions about his own political aspirations, saying he would follow the decisions of the ANC.

"What I may be in the future is not in my hands," Mandela said recently. "That question should be put to the men around me because they control my movements and determine our policy."

If the ANC "is fortunate enough to form a government," Mandela added, "it will determine who should be the president and form the Cabinet. It's not for me to say."

But that day may be at least several years and exhaustive negotiations away. Associates of Mandela and de Klerk say both men hope to be part of the new government of South Africa.

Mandela's release opened a new era in South Africa. And in the coming months the ANC deputy president will be the glue that holds together the fragile peace pact between angry blacks and the government that caused that anger. Without him, most white and black South Africans agree, their country's future would indeed be very dim.

"There is a kind of heightened sense of pride that we have him," said Barbara Masekela, a former English teacher at Rutgers University and now the administrator of Mandela's office. "He symbolizes all the sacrifice, the courage, the resilience and the peace-lovingness of our people."

Outside his two-story home on a hill in the middle of Soweto, children gather every day to play soccer in the street. A favorite song of these youngsters, and others across the country, goes: "Nelson Mandela. There is no one like Nelson Mandela."

Mandela has become much more than a symbol for the black liberation movement. He is a tough negotiator, a skillful politician and a charismatic leader. He effectively guides the ANC, and his leadership is undisputed.

The demands of leadership have placed enormous strains on Mandela, now 72 years and 8 months old. Although his health has been fine so far, he had to cancel several engagements to rest. With the country's future riding on his shoulders, and no apparent heir, Mandela's advancing age has worried ANC officials.

While Mandela seems at home in the spotlight, he is not comfortable being placed on a throne by those with inflated expectations.

Within hours of Mandela's release, some political pundits were expressing disappointment in him. He had accidentally left his reading glasses behind in prison and his first speech, delivered hours late in the twilight of a Cape Town evening, lacked the punch many had expected.

"We are all men of flesh and blood and ... if the people expected miracles, well, I was not worthy," Mandela said recently.

"If people regarded me as the Messiah who was overnight going to solve the problems of South Africa, then they were living in a fool's paradise," he said. "No human being could do that. Not even Christ succeeded in doing that -- and I'm far from being a Christ."

Mandela said his first year of freedom has been a learning process. He remembers being surprised by the militancy of black activists until "it became very clear to me why this was so. There was more unemployment, more poverty, a greater demand for houses and hospitals than when I went to prison."

On his first day back in Soweto, Mandela urged black children to return to their schools, saying that education is a tool to prepare for the future. But his call was ignored by students and teachers, who had been boycotting classes to protest paltry pay for instructors, lack of books and poor facilities.

Now, he admitted, "I took a superficial view of the matter. I was right in saying they should go back to school, but I had not investigated whether there were still opportunities for them to go back to school."

Mandela also was surprised at his inability to end the fighting between his supporters and those of Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party.

Within weeks of his release, Mandela urged combatants in the violence-torn Natal Province to "throw your pangas (machetes) into the sea." That plea was ignored and a blood bath followed, spreading to townships around Johannesburg.

When Mandela visited Johannesburg townships to seek an end to the factional fighting, his own supporters chanted: "Where were you, father, when we needed you?"

Mandela bowed to pressure from militants within the ANC and refused to meet Buthelezi for months. When the two men finally did get together, in January, they made a joint call for peace. The violence has slowed somewhat, and each new outbreak of factional fighting now is addressed by committees of ANC and Inkatha leaders.

At times during the year, it appeared that Mandela had lost control of his supporters. Mandela still had their respect, but many militant activists privately expressed concern that he was too willing to compromise with Buthelezi as well as with the government.

The extent of that militancy became clear in December, when some 1,500 delegates to an ANC consultative conference criticized Mandela and other ANC leaders for opening negotiations with de Klerk before apartheid had been abolished.

In an extemporaneous speech, which many believe was Mandela's finest, the ANC leader bluntly told delegates that he would not consult them on every issue during negotiations.

He said suggestions that the ANC halt all confidential discussions with the government "are totally unreasonable." And he cited half a dozen instances in which his personal calls to de Klerk or Cabinet ministers had resolved urgent problems facing ANC members.

Nevertheless, many liberal whites, who have opposed apartheid for years, are highly critical of Mandela and the ANC for failing to accept the inevitability of change, for holding onto sanctions against Pretoria and for keeping close ties with the South African Communist Party.

"I don't think he's shown the leadership that one hoped for," said Helen Suzman, who is Mandela's friend and the retired leader of the liberals in Parliament. "He's also been out of the country too much, not necessarily by choice. ... The (ANC) National Executive Committee wants money and he's their best fund-raiser. But meanwhile, back at the ranch, there's an awful lot of killing going on.

"By and large, though, for a man who has been in jail for 27 years, I think he's retained remarkable composure and a remarkable lack of any bitterness," Suzman said.

That lack of bitterness, and his willingness to address white fears of being dominated by a black majority government, has won him the admiration, if not necessarily the support, of a broad cross-section of the population.

Mandela remembers that he was "almost shocked off my feet" when he saw whites waving to him from the roadside as he left prison last year.

"I really had no idea of the number of whites who are now identifying themselves with the anti-apartheid struggle," he said.

Mandela's international stature has swelled during the year, but he has been criticized by Western governments for his friendship with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, Cuban President Fidel Castro and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, from whom he accepted the "Gadhafi International Prize for Human Rights" last year.

Mandela will be under additional pressure worldwide in the coming months to call for an end to sanctions. Hard-liners in the ANC want sanctions to stay, to keep the pressure on the government. But that stand has been severely tested as sanctions crumble around the world.

The desire to reward de Klerk for his reforms "is very commendable," Mandela said recently. "But it is an error of judgment (and) they're making a very serious mistake." He then suggested that the lifting of sanctions might lead to mass unrest.

"One of the things I fear is that once our people discover they have no friends in the international community, it is going to be very difficult for us to control them inside the country," Mandela said. "The type of fire we are trying to hold back is very difficult to imagine."

Meanwhile, back at home, Mandela's ANC faces trying times. The gap between the leaders and the rank and file widens every day. Some members complain that they have no way of making themselves heard by ANC leaders.

That has been most apparent in the controversy surrounding Mandela's wife, Winnie, who is standing trial on charges of kidnaping and assault. The case stems from the abduction and beating of four youths at the Mandela home in December, 1988, a year before Nelson Mandela's release.

Although Winnie Mandela has millions of supporters worldwide, she has come under criticism from many blacks at home, where her retinue of young bodyguards once terrorized many blacks, including supporters of her husband. Several ANC chapters wrote letters to protest her appointment to a senior position in the organization last year, but no ANC leader responded.

Nelson Mandela seems not to hear the criticism. "The people who have objected to (Winnie's) appointment can be counted on the fingers of one hand," he said recently.

Mandela believes that his wife is being harassed by people hoping to discredit the ANC. And most of his closest associates are afraid to warn him of the growing controversy within the ANC over Winnie Mandela.

"He lacks the most important thing a leader needs--a group of advisers willing to tell him what to do," said Thami Mazwai, senior assistant editor of the Sowetan newspaper. "He's advising himself because people are afraid to stand up to him."

A Year on the Outside

Here are some of the major events involving Nelson Mandela in his first year of freedom after 27 years in South African prisons.

Feb. 11, 1990

Walked out of Victor Verster prison near Cape Town, was met by thousands of supporters, and addressed a rally of more than 50,000 people

Feb. 25, 1990

Addressed a huge rally in eastern Natal Province, site of years of fighting between the African National Congress and Inkatha Freedom Party supporters, urging combatants to "throw their pangas (machetes) in the sea." The violence continued.

March 2, 1990

Named deputy president of ANC, becoming its leader in the absence of ailing president Oliver Tambo.

April 5, 1990

Met with President Frederik W. De Klerk. They said formal ANC-government talks would begin May 2.

May 2-4, 1990

Led ANC delegation in first talks with government. The sides agreed to work toward negotiations on ending white minority rule.

May 28, 1990

Hospitalized for minor surgery and rest.

June 4, 1990

Left on a six-week, 14-nation tour to the United States, Europe and Africa.

Aug. 6-7, 1990

ANC suspends armed struggle after meeting with government.

Sept. 11, 1990

Held emergency meeting with De Klerk to discuss township violence. Accused government of waging war on ANC.

Nov. 27, 1990

Met with De Klerk. They reconfirmed commitment to negotiations.

Dec. 14-16, 1990

ANC held its first legal conference in South Africa in 39 years. Resolutions reaffirmed most hard-line positions.

Jan. 29, 1991

Mandela and Inkatha Leader Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi meets for the first time in decades, and called for peace between their supporters.

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