A strange ceremony took place in this remote and dusty village today when South Africa's leading civil rights legislator, Helen Suzman, handed over a bedspread in a colorful Pennsylvania Dutch design to a leading figure of the country's outlawed black nationalist movement.
Three months ago, during a visit by Suzman, the security police raided the tiny house in Brandfort's segregated black quarter where Winnie Mandela, 47, wife of the jailed African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, lives in banishment. They confiscated a bedspread in the green, black and yellow colors of the banned African movement.
A report of the raid in The Washington Post was followed by an article on the op-ed page by Suzman describing what happened. This prompted a group of 26 U.S. senators and congressmen, organized by Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.), to have a replacement bedspread made in the Pennsylvania Dutch design.
They autographed it and sent it to Suzman with a request that she deliver it to Mandela. Tsongas issued a statement explaining that the presentation of the bedspread was intended to express support for Mandela in her determined fight against South Africa's segregationist system called apartheid.
"It will send a telling signal to Pretoria that the U.S. Congress continues to be concerned over the systematic denial of basic human rights to people of color in South Africa," Tsongas said.
Suzman flew and drove to this remote village in the province of Orange Free State today to make the presentation under a willow tree outside Mandela's house. The three-roomed house, with no electricity or running water, was too small for an audience of half a dozen reporters, particularly since the order restricting Mandela prohibits her from being in the company of more than one person at a time.
Therefore, Mandela, clad in a pale blue full-length African gown and a matching head scarf, went through a series of one-to-one conversations under the willow tree.
"This is a wonderful gesture, just wonderful," Mandela murmured, running her hands over the quilted bedspread and asking about its central motif of a seven-pointed star, which someone told her was a hex sign to bring good luck.
"It makes one appreciate the support of the American people, particularly after all the trouble we have had with the Reagan administration," she said. That was a reference to the administration's policy of "constructive engagement" with the South African government, resented by the black nationalists who would rather see a policy of sanctions.
Others who signed the bedspread included Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee; his daughter, Sharon Percy Rockefeller; Sens. Nancy L. Kassebaum (R-Kan.), chairman of the subcommittee on Africa; John Glenn (D-Ohio); Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.); Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.); Bill Bradley (D-N.J.), and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.).
Congressmen who signed included Howard E. Wolpe (D-Mich.), chairman of the House African affairs subcommittee, Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.) and Gus Savage (D-Ill.).
Not all of the signatories go along with Mandela's left-leaning views, which the South African government regards as communist, but she has become a symbol of black resistance to apartheid. Her image among blacks is similar to that of her husband, who was sentenced to life imprisonment 20 years ago for plotting the violent overthrow of white-minority rule.
Mrs. Mandela has lived under strict banning orders for 20 years and has been subjected to numerous raids and arrests, although she has never been convicted. She was banished to Brandfort after the 1976 student uprising in Johannesburg's black township of Soweto, in which more than 600 young blacks were killed in clashes with police.
Here, she has organized a mobile health clinic in the district, started a center for baby care and encouraged the poorly paid local blacks to grow their own vegetables and demand better wages. "It is tragic that someone with so much vitality and so many talents to contribute to her country should be left to rot in this place," Suzman remarked to the reporters, as Mandela conversed animatedly a sufficient distance away to avoid being part of what South African security laws would regard as a "gathering."
"Whenever I call here I am struck by the fact that any requests she has are for other people, never for herself," Suzman added. graphics/map: SOUTH AFRICA By Dave Cook--TWP