Beginning tomorrow, through 12 days and eight stops from Harlem to Hollywood, America is going to experience, firsthand and up close, the mammoth legend and gentle face of Nelson Mandela. He will be everywhere in the instant global television village of our lives. But to what extent Mandela's two adult daughters -- who live and study in Massachusetts, and who are children of different marriages, and who are said not to be close -- get to spend time with their famous father during his ticker-tape blitzkrieg of America remains a difficult question to answer.
Tour organizers and family spokesmen seem both cautious and vague on the subject. In fact, they seem a bit uncomfortable discussing it.
"Basically, we just don't know. It's essentially private, something between the various family members. We know a whole lot about the public part of this tour, but we are really not privy to anything private that the family is doing," Colette Phillips of Boston's Fund for a Free South Africa said yesterday.
Makaziwe Mandela is the older of these two half sisters living in the United States. She has not seen her father since he was released from Victor Verster Prison in February, and in the recent and the not-so-recent past she has expressed anger and bitterness over some of her parental and other family relationships. Reached yesterday at her apartment in Amherst, Mass., she said:
"I'm not sure I'm going to see him at all. It isn't set yet. I may go down to Boston when he arrives there. I can tell you this, though. I haven't been involved with any of the planning."
Makaziwe -- known in the family as Maki -- is working on her doctorate at the University of Massachusetts. She said she is about a year away from completing her degree, and that her dissertation is to be on the women of the Transkei, which is the land of Nelson Mandela's people. Maki, who is 42, lives with her husband, Isaac Amuah, and her three children on the top floor of a three-story brick building on the edge of the university.
In an interview this year in The Washington Post, Maki said: "I never really got to a stage where I developed that father-daughter relationship with my father. I really know my father very little as a father. ... And I have really been bitter for not having my father and very angry -- at my father -- for not being there."
It is no particular secret that there have been long-standing disputes among certain Mandela family members. Even in the authorized and generally soft-going Nelson Mandela biography, "Higher Than Hope" (it was written by a South African named Fatima Meer and has just recently appeared in the United States), there are sentences such as these: "There was tension between the two houses he had founded. It was always a matter of deep pain that those whom he loved did not love each other, or did not love each other as much as they should."
The other Mandela child currently living in America, Zenani Mandela Dlamini, is a daughter from Mandela's second marriage, to Winnie Mandela. The relationship of Zenani, or "Zeni," with her father is known to be much closer than that of Makaziwe. Zeni, who is 31, has three children and is married to a prince of Swaziland. She studies political science at Boston University and, like her half sister in Amherst, lives in an apartment near campus. She is said to be very shy and very cautious about the press. She went to South Africa for her father's release. Last week she saw family members on a vacation in Switzerland.
Yesterday a spokesman for Zeni at BU -- all requests from the media are being channeled through the university or through the Fund for a Free South Africa -- said that although her plans are still in flux for the visit, she will probably go down to New York on Friday to be with her parents.
"It wouldn't surprise me if she has minimum contact with the tour," Herbert Ross of the university's Office of the Dean of Students said yesterday. "It'll be those private moments, at their apartment or at the hotel, whatever. I doubt she'll be on many podiums."
Thus far Zenani has agreed to appear at one public function of the tour: a salute to her mother on Saturday at St. Paul's Cathedral in Boston.
In a rare interview this past February in the Boston Globe, just before her father was released, Zeni said: "I know I will see Daddy and spend Sunday with him. In a way our private moments will be taken away from us. He is a public man, and it's going to be very hard."
Nelson Mandela has had six children altogether. Four are now living. The eldest, Thembi, a son, was killed in an automobile accident in 1969. Another child of the first marriage died at nine months. A third child, Makgatho, 39, lives quietly in a farm town in the Transkei, running a general store and cafe. He is said to be dwelling in semi-obscurity. He lives with his mother, Evelyn, Mandela's first wife, who is now 69 and a retired nurse.
In addition to Maki and Zeni, there is another daughter, Zindzi, in South Africa. When she was born in 1960, her father was away from Johannesburg and saw her for the first time several days later, in the midst of a police raid on his home. Zindzi was to say in later life, "I felt I was more or less raised by the police."
In Fatima Meer's biography, there are many letters between father and children. In some of them he is exhorting them sternly to stay in school, and in others he seems just trying to be a dad, gently, from behind prison walls.
"It pleases me that you're taking driving lessons and hope you will be as careful a driver as Mum is," he writes to his youngest daughter. "Thembi could drive the colossal Oldsmobile at 10. But if you get your license, you'll have done better than Mum and I. We were 26 and 33 respectively when we got ours. Good luck darling!"