The 26-year-old daughter has one memory of her father, Nelson Mandela, the black South African resistance leader, before he went to prison 23 years ago, and she carries it like a birthmark that never fades with time.

"One day I went out with Daddy," she says in her soft, lilting voice, with clipped consonants. "I remember. It's very clear to me. Daddy had me on his shoulders and we were running. We were being chased by bees." She laughs with delight. The place was a farm called Lilliesleaf, in Rivonia. "As the bees got closer, Daddy threw me down and covered me. Mommy said I could never stop talking about this farm to my friends."

Much to her mother's fear. Lilliesleaf was the underground headquarters of the outlawed African National Congress (ANC), of which her father is acknowledged leader. Her father often hid there and sometimes he would come to his family's home in the dead of night, wake up his daughter and take her there. "All I remember were the willow trees," she says with a smile.

A year or so later, she was being hoisted on another pair of shoulders -- those of her uncle -- outside the courthouse the day her father, on trial for sabotage, was sentenced to life imprisonment. "It was packed and packed and packed," she says of the square outside the courthouse when her father appeared. "And I remember a loud scream and people saying, 'There they are!' " She herself could barely catch a glimpse of the father who would become a legend in his imprisonment, a symbol of leadership to South African blacks. "We were so far away."

As the daughter of Nelson and Winnie Mandela, two black South African activists world-renowned for their work, Zenani Mandela Dlamini has never led anything near an ordinary life.

"I was nearly born in prison," she says with a sigh. Her mother has been in and out of prison, both before and since Nelson Mandela's imprisonment. When both parents were incarcerated, Zenani, called Zenny, was cared for by aunts and uncles and friends of the family.

Between the ages of 4 and 16, she was not allowed to see her fa- ther -- no political prisoner may have visitors of such impressionable age, she says. Since then she has seen her father every three or four months. Now, she brings her own children.

When her father -- now imprisoned in Cape Town -- was being held on windswept Robben Island, Zenny took a cold, wet 45-minute ferry ride with her 8-month-old child to see him. For the safety of her child, she asked to ride in the enclosed part of the ferry. The requests were denied. Blacks had to ride exposed to wind and sea. However, after Zenny complained to her father about the ferry ride, prison officials made sure she had a room on the return ride.

A month ago, she was with her mother -- but not at home -- when her mother's Brandfort home was tear-gassed. She was with her again in safety when the home and her mother's clinic were firebombed.

"With all the support, it's gotten easier," she says of her life. "You realize how much love there is. I'm very proud to be Winnie and Nelson Mandela's daughter."

Yet unlike her mother, who took up the Mandela mantle against apartheid the day her husband was sentenced, Zenny Mandela Dlamini eschews the role of spokeswoman.

"I'm the shyest member of the family," she says sheepishly. In some semblance of normal family life, she lives in Mbabane, the capital of Swaziland, with her husband, Thumbumuzi Dlamini, and their three children and works as an accountant at the Swaziland Commercial Board.

But she does what she feels is necessary for her parents and for South Africa. She went to Detroit last week to accept an award given her mother by the Afro Museum of Detroit. Her mother is under government restriction and cannot leave South Africa. And at the invitation of The Center for Development Policy here, she has come to Washington. She was invited by Barbara Harmel, director of the center's African commission, and herself a white South African political exile whose parents worked with the Mandelas and the ANC. And she is scheduled this Friday to pick up a check from a group of U.S. senators to rebuild her mother's home and clinic.

With her husband by her side, Zenny Dlamini attended a luncheon in her honor and read a short speech. Guests invited to the center's luncheon stood quietly to hear her soft voice on the patio under a flapping awning at the Stewart Mott House.

In response to Reagan's statement that the South African government is "reformist," Mandela's daughter said in her remarks, "How can this government be reformist, when the truly chosen leaders of the majority of my homeland are arrested for attempting to lead peaceful demonstrations to demand the release of my father after 23 years?"

She is without pretension in manner and conversation, and given to easy little laughs of amusement and awkwardness. She has her mother's almond eyes and smooth, high cheekbones, now so recognizable from photographs printed all over the world; and wears her hair brushed back from her face. She wears a gold cuff bracelet with her father's name and 1964 (the year he was sentenced) printed on it. She is the older of the two daughters that Winnie and Nelson Mandela have. Zindziswe Mandela, 24, lives in Cape Town in South Africa. "She's very outspoken," says her older sister.

"Because I was the older one, Zindzi had me to fall back on," says Zenny. "I had no one. Zindzi always slept with Mommy, so when she went to boarding school, she had a problem. She couldn't sleep alone. When she came to Waterford a school that the two attended , she was really very shy. She could not go into the dining room. She would look around for me and then, when she saw me, she would come in. Ever since she moved to Brandfort, she's grown up, and she realizes what it means to be Nelson Mandela's daughter . . . Mommy can only speak through her."

A half-sister, Makaziwe Phumla Mandela, 31, one of three children that Nelson Mandela had from a previous marriage, has recently arrived at the University of Massachusetts for graduate study. "She gave a press conference and said to hell with being Mandela's daughter," says Zenny Dlamini calmly. "I was very surprised. But that's a family problem. We'll solve it," she says, with the tone of voice reserved for talking about a recalcitrant child.

The Dlaminis travel together, go to see Nelson Mandela together (when they can), and give interviews together. Thumbumuzi Dlamini is 35, the manager of the Central Bank of Swaziland, the son of the late King Sobhuza of Swaziland.

She met him briefly at 15 and then bumped into him again at 16 in a restaurant when she was trying to find a way to get from her boarding school in Swaziland to South Africa to visit her father. "I had to have a ticket to go to Johannesburg and I didn't have any money, not a cent. The only person I knew [in Swaziland] was my uncle. I was sitting in a restaurant with a friend, frantic, trying to figure out how I could get money to go home. And then Muzi came in and said, 'Hi.' I think he could see something was bothering me . . . He said, 'What's the problem?' I said, 'I have no way to get to the airport and no money to get a ticket.' "

Her would-be husband quickly offered rides to her uncle's and then to the airport.

"Well," he says, smiling, "I was very interested in seeing Zenny, so I was interested in being helpful. I thought this would create a very good ground for me to date her later."

She adds, "And I didn't know he was a prince until later."

She was married the next year at 17 in a traditional wedding. "My father is very traditional," Zenny says. "Where his children are concerned, everything has to be traditional."

Zenny talks to her mother "practically every day," and drives from Swaziland, once a month to see her; more often when her mother is in Johannesburg. She last saw her father, who is allowed 12 family visits a year, in April.

"We try to divide them up among the family members," Muzi says.

"Two people at a time are allowed for 30 minutes," Zenny says. "We usually see him on Saturdays and Sundays -- just in case there was something else we forgot to tell him."

They talk of family problems -- "we don't tell him about stupid little quarrels," says Zenny, "but the bigger things: 'Daddy, what should we do when we go abroad?' And if the guard isn't listening," Zenny smiles, " 'Daddy, what should we say when we get outside?' "

The Dlaminis paint a portrait of a healthy, well-informed Nelson Mandela who is treated with a degree of respect in prison. On their visits, they bring chocolates and family photographs and sometimes, some of the children, who are now 4, 6 and 8. The oldest, Zaziwe, was named by her famous grandfather. "Daddy's so soft and loving," she says. "When I come to visit, he always insists that I bring one of the children and they get there and they are always all over him, playing with him."

He is also, in the words of his daughter, "very, very fit. He used to be a boxer. He's a health fanatic. He jogs every day."

The Dlaminis say there have been some recent problems: "We've had some complaints," says Muzi. "The cell was leaking. It was too small."

"And the other prisoners make too much noise," adds Zenny.

What he is allowed to read amounts to "silly little novels," Zenny says, and heavily censored newspapers.

"But somehow, the man is well informed," says Muzi.

Ask her if her father will be released from his life term, and his daughter says, "Yes." She says it will be soon -- though he will agree to no conditions -- and adds, "I think with all the political pressure being put on South Africa, hopefully something will be done."