Mandela Addresses CongressBy William Claiborne
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 7, 1994; Page A06
South African President Nelson Mandela repeatedly brought cheering lawmakers to their feet at a joint meeting of Congress yesterday when he urged the United States to turn its energy and resources from the ideological battles of the Cold War to underwriting peace, democracy and prosperity in Africa.
"You, honorable members of the U.S. Congress, are part of and represent the most powerful nation in our universe. I am, on the other hand, an African," Mandela declared in an emotion-filled speech whose powerful rhetoric and philosophical undertones seemed to hold many senators and House members spellbound.
"Because I am an African, you will, I am certain, understand why I should stand here and say that ... the new world order that is in the making must focus on the creation of a world of democracy, peace and prosperity for all humanity," Mandela said.
Mandela was making his first U.S. visit since he was elected president, a trip intended to generate new investment in an economy crippled by the former apartheid policy of racial separation and international sanctions.
Quoting from poems by T.S. Eliot and Walt Whitman, Mandela urged the packed House chamber to redefine conventional notions of international relations, to think of the world as a community of interdependent humans and to "move from the negative to the positive ... which will make it possible for all peoples to enjoy the right to full human dignity."
Mandela, who addressed a joint meeting of Congress four months after he was released from prison in 1990, said that the national euphoria that accompanied his election last April and the final overthrow of white minority rule in South Africa has been replaced by the harsh realities of an impoverished black population with soaring expectations.
"The flame of freedom, under whose light we danced in joyful abandon, has thrown an unrelenting glare on the great human tragedy on which was built the tarnished, tinsel glitter of an unjust society," said Mandela, who was interrupted by applause 11 times during his 35-minute address.
Pervasive poverty, joblessness, hunger, illiteracy and the brutalization of blacks by an oppressive regime have fueled a spiraling crime rate in South Africa and have "warped and condemned many a soul," Mandela said.
Referring to the daunting task of improving the human condition in his country, Mandela said, "The question that arises is whether we shall embark on that road walking alone or whether you will be with us."
The Clinton administration in May announced a $600 million economic aid package for South Africa, and on Wednesday Clinton added another $100 million for regional development in southern Africa and $80 million for improving health care and electrification in South Africa.
In sharp contrast to the Marxist image that South Africa's white rulers long sought to affix to Mandela and his now-governing African National Congress, Mandela offered his audience a ringing endorsement of Reagan-like trickle-down economics and suggested that it can be applied to Africa.
Asserting that "a buyer is a buyer," regardless of race or class, Mandela said, "The success of your entrepreneurs, and with it the capacity of your society to give work to your citizens, rests on the fact of the elevation of every person, anywhere in the world, to the position of a free actor in the marketplace."
Mandela said the marketplace could produce a "magical elixir" needed to convince all societies that regardless of racial or class differences, "we are nonetheless all of us part of one, indivisible and common humanity."
Mandela was scheduled to meet with exiled Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide today, but when Aristide arrived at Blair House for the meeting Mandela stepped outside and told reporters that he had a conflicting appointment and that the two will try to meet today.
The Clinton administration had encouraged a Mandela-Aristide meeting because, senior officials said, it was felt that Mandela's success in bridging racial and class divisions in South Africa would be an important message for Aristide as he prepares to reconcile polarized societies in Haiti.
© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company