Following is the transcript of an interview with African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela by editors and reporters of The Washington Post.

Q. You have written about the need for some kind of an eventual grand compromise of sorts in South Africa that would reconcile the demands of South African blacks for majority rule in a unitary state and the insistence by whites on some kind of structural guarantee so that the majority does not dominate the minority. Since your release, most of the discussion has been on the process, on negotiations and how do we get there rather than on your actual vision of what the new South Africa would actually look like. Could you spell out for us, in whatever detail you care to, your vision of what the new South Africa should look like politically, how it could be organized politically?

A. We dealt with this question in very clear terms as far back as 1955 when we published a freedom charter, which contains our basic policy. That document is the most devastating attack on all forms of racialism. In fact, we go so far as to declare the preaching of racialism a criminal offense.

We also declare that all national groups will have equal status in the law, and their rights, the basic rights of which they are entitled to as citizens. We'll be creating a bill of rights which will be enforceable by an independent judiciary. In the public sector, there will be no racialism at all. Nevertheless, we recognize the diversity of the population, and we say that each national group will have the right to establish its own schools if it wants to, to give instructions in its own language, to retain its own culture and its own religion.

We also declare that no government can be established without the will of the people. A government should represent the people of the country as a whole. And for that reason, we call for the implementation of one person, one vote.

I think that the freedom charter is not only a blueprint for the future of Africa we're fighting for, but it is the only policy in the country -- both inside and outside parliament -- which guarantees to every South African full rights, the rights which are based on the principle {of} one person, one vote. That is the type of South Africa which we visualize.

We have amplified the issues which I have referred to just now. We declare, for example, for a multi-party system, and our own conception of South Africa is one where full democracy reigns fully without any restrictions.

Q. Would the ANC function as a political party? Would it be an umbrella organization for several political parties? Would it be a contender among many?

A. The ANC has never been a political party. It was formed as a parliament of the African people. Right from the start, up to now, the ANC is a coalition, if you want, of people of various political affiliations. Some will support free enterprise, others socialism. Some are conservatives, others are liberals. We are united solely by our determination to oppose racial oppression. That is the only thing that unites us.

There is no question of ideology as far as the odyssey of the ANC is concerned, because any question approaching ideology would split the organization from top to bottom. Because we have no connection whatsoever except at this one, of our determination to dismantle apartheid.

In the new South Africa, therefore, parties will be free to form themselves, and the ANC has no right to say to any political party, to any group, that you can only exist if you join us, if you accept us as an embracing organization.

Q. I'm sure you have heard about this attempt supposedly to assassinate you upon your return to South Africa, that the South African government says they have spoiled. I wonder what you think would happen if you were no longer with us in terms of the ANC? Would the ANC be able to continue in negotiations with the government, or would these various coalitions that you refer to -- that form the ANC -- be pulled apart?

A. The ANC has been in existence for 78 years. It has grown to become the most powerful political organization in the country, with an impact and influence which is recognized not only internally, but internationally. It has got a very competent leadership, starting from President O.R. {Oliver} Tambo right down the organization.

At the present moment, the organization is sustained and maintained by a very competent leadership, which has been able to keep the organization together throughout these difficult years. There is nothing as difficult as to maintain the unity of an organization which is operating illegally and from abroad. Our leadership has been able to do this very successfully.

It makes no difference as to whether an individual is there or not, because we work as a team. We were brought up under the principle of collective leadership. There is nobody amongst us who is indispensable -- in the sense that if he's not there, then our political work will grind to a halt. No. We work as a team. And if any particular individual has become prominent, it is because of the support by the organization. It is because the organization wants to put him in that position. If that individual is no longer there, somebody else will also be groomed for that position, and he will have just the same impact.

We have got very prominent leaders, like Mr. {Walter} Sisulu. . . who is head of the organization internally. He was a former secretary general of the organization and is highly respected. We have a man like Mr. Govan Mbeki, who also was national chairman of the organization before it was banned. People like {longtime ANC activist} Mr. Raymond Mhlaba. The list is inexhaustible.

So we do not depend on an individual, no. We depend upon the organization and our collective leadership.

Q. Sir, you have suggested a number of times that sanctions should only be removed when progress toward a just society is irreversible, as you say. What is the meaning of "irreversible?" Does that mean the beginning of negotiations? The end? Does it mean elections? And do you consider the terms in the American anti-apartheid law, the specific terms which are spelled out there for the termination of that act, do you consider that they constitute irreversible?

A. This is not a question which we can decide now or beforehand. This is a question of -- which must be determined, decided at a specific moment. You must understand that although we have made progress in the first meeting between the ANC and the government, but there are still a lot of problems. There are questions of suspicion and mistrust which we are trying to remove and overcome. We have done a lot to remove that obstacle, but we need still to do more.

The purpose of this is that we should know that when the government says, we contend that to remove all these laws, repressive laws, which were identified, we intend to remove them by the 1st, 2nd of January 1991. We should have established an atmosphere where it is possible for us to accept that this is what they mean, that this is what they are going to do. And then this atmosphere of mutual confidence is going to grow as we address our problems. And it may not be necessary for us actually to agree upon a constitution before we can feel that fundamental and irreversible change has taken place.

But it may well be that because of the problems which we're facing in the course of negotiations, that that will be the point at which we will feel that the fundamental and irreversible change has taken place. It is, therefore, not a question that can be looked at theoretically or from the point of view of principle. It's a question that must depend on how, on the progress that we're making, and on how we address the problems that arise, and how mutual confidence is built in the course of our negotiations.

And I must tell you, that already in this first meeting, as somebody said, a member of one of our delegations, he says we found that none of us -- either the members of the ANC and of those of the government -- none of us had horns as we are talking. And that is extremely important, because the lack of communication, lack of contact is responsible for some of the suspicion and mistrust that has arisen.

But the men in that meeting have now built a relationship which is going to help in attaching the importance which one should attach in an undertaking made by the other side, so that we can't decide the matter beforehand.

Q. Many black Americans view you as someone symbolic of their own struggle here. How do you feel about being a symbol on par with Martin Luther King for black Americans, and are you surprised by it?

A. No, I take this as a gesture, as a recognition of the part played by the organization as a whole. It is, of course, natural for people to regard a man whom they think has performed excellently as a symbol.

But in actual fact, what this means is that the organization has succeeded in putting somebody in a particular position to perform certain tasks and that task is being performed as the organization desires. Therefore, I never regard such sentiments as being referred to an individual separate from the organization and the cause that it represents.

Q. Many of the youth in South Africa, including youth who say they support the ANC and support you, are very frustrated and impatient at the pace of change, at the negotiations that are underway, and at what they feel is a slowness that is in the process. What is the ANC doing, and what can the ANC do to contain that frustration among youth or to challenge in directions that could be helpful for the movement?

A. The frustration and anger on the part of black youth is perfectly understandable, because they live under terrible disabilities. They do not enjoy the basic rights which are being enjoyed by their counterparts, the European youths. They have also seen that on their borders, the political picture has changed completely. Their counterparts in the neighboring states enjoy freedom in the fullest sense of the word and that impatience therefore is understandable. But you'll be making a mistake if you think that the youth are impatient with the negotiations that are going on. We are working with youth. The most representative youth organization in South Africa is what they call the South African Youth Congress, SAYCO. The president is Mr. Peter Mocaba.

I have been going around with Peter Mocaba in almost all the rallies that I've attended. And that line of the youth is full support for the negotiations that are going. And that there is no question of the youth of being impatient with the progress that is being made. We are working in full cooperation with them.

But, of course, there are difficulties. Because of the state of black education, which is inferior in comparison to that of the whites -- we could spin out details of that inferiority, but we haven't got the time to do so. Because of the inferior education which is available to them, the lack of schools, the absence of involvement in the proper sense of the term, the fact that the parents can't control, do not control their own education, are factors which have angered the youth.

We call upon them to go back to school. They too obey this, but they come to school and they find that the schools are full. They can't take anybody more. They find that there is a regulation which says that if a black youth fails his examinations, he cannot go back to school, which does not apply to other groups. Then they are told that they cannot form student representative counsels for the purpose of controlling their affairs and expressing concerns.

All these things are frustrating the youth and making them very angry. But as far as following the line put forward by the ANC, the youth are fully behind us.

Q. You said your eventual goal is for an expanding economy. But right now the economy is moving in the other direction, with the real GNP declining the last several quarters, sanctions by some estimates declining up to two billion dollars a year. Isn't it dangerous to you and your ultimate goal, existence of the next government in South Africa, to let the situation drag on indefinitely? And what can a post-apartheid government do as it takes office to reverse this decline?

A. We had to take a decision on how to get our objectives realized. We have explored all means which will enable us to dismantle apartheid, and to introduce the principle of one person, one vote. Any method which will enable the organization to reach this goal we will use. And we have used sanctions for this purpose because all other means to induce the white minority to share political power with the masses of the people have failed.

Not only that, the entire international community was not very much interested in helping us to achieve our objectives. It is only after certain countries, after certain black states and other countries in other parts of the world have come to our assistance that the Western world decided also to join in. But it was too late. After we had gone round them to say, "Please help us with resources. We are fighting a battle for basic human rights," they would never listen to us. We could never even see junior members of the government. They were just quite uninterested.

We have, however, conducted our own struggle, determined that we'll never fold our arms in the face of the evil of the apartheid system. And one of the ways that we selected was that pressure should be brought against the government on the economic level. We asked the international community to do this, and of course they have responded very excellently. And we are happy about that support.

But we knew that pressure from the international community would hurt our economy. We are prepared for that if by doing so we will gain this greater object which will enable the overwhelming majority of the people of South Africa to determine their own affairs.

After our liberation, we will of course invite the entire world, including the United States of America, to help us to prepare our economy. So that it can grow and perform. And we will do that and we hope that all countries which will be in a position to help will do so. This is the only option open to us. And we have called for sanctions knowing the damage that will be done to our economy. But this is the price the country must pay for bringing about {the demise of} a system which we consider evil and inexcusable.

Q. What similarities do you see between the struggle of blacks in South Africa and the struggle of black Americans? And secondly, do you see any special role for black Americans to play in helping black South Africans to end the system of apartheid?

A. Well, there are similarities, there are differences. In so far as the United States of America is concerned, they are fighting within a legal system which allows them all the basic rights which are available to other population groups. Whereas in our own country, the legal system itself has entrenched the question of the color bar. The color bar is going to be found in the laws of the country. That is the basic difference. What the American people, American blacks, are doing is to overcome the prejudice which is to be found in certain population groups.

But for this, they have the support of the Constitution. They can rely on the Constitution and enforce their rights. And if the courts are themselves independent, as I believe the American court judiciary is, then of course you can conduct the struggle for your civil rights through the court as well, apart enough from the mass action that you might resort to. But you have the advantage that you can go to the court and say, "The Constitution grants us these rights. We are not allowed to enjoy them," and in fact I think this has been done on countless occasions in this country.

We can't do so in South Africa, because the color bar is part of the legal system itself. And further, in the United States of America, you have blacks who have risen to the top as far as the judiciary is concerned. It may not be to that standard to which the black people of this country desire, but you have personalities who have become famous judicial figures, indeed, and whose judgments are studied throughout the world.

Not so in South Africa. The judiciary is drawn exclusively from whites. And there are those basic differences between the struggle of the Negro people in this country and blacks in South Africa.