DETROIT, JUNE 28 -- Nelson Mandela was given a robust, union hall-style welcome today in this city of workers, which he said reminded him of the Indian Ocean city of Port Elizabeth, where South Africa's cars are made and near where he was born.

Three hours behind schedule in his demanding 12-day, cross-country tour to raise money for his African National Congress (ANC) and shore up his negotiating position with Pretoria's white-minority leadership, Mandela made his first stop at the sprawling Ford Motor Co. assembly plant in Dearborn. A mostly black work force of thousands greeted him as a hero.

On arrival from Miami, Mandela was met at the airport by Michigan Gov. James J. Blanchard (D), Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young and about 90 dignitaries. Mandela apologized, saying he would be forced to curtail his schedule severely.

"I am very happy to touch down in this industrial heartland of the United States," he said. "For me, Detroit represents the motor industry, and right now it makes me think of Port Elizabeth, which is the heart of the motor industry in my country."

Workers in the cavernous Mustang assembly plant cheered as Owen Bieber, president of the United Auto Workers union, awarded Mandela an honorary lifetime membership as the ANC deputy president proudly held up his membership card and donned a union cap and jacket.

"The man who is speaking is not a stranger here," Mandela declared. "The man who is speaking is a member of the UAW. I am your flesh and blood. I am your comrade."

Mandela, 71, slept late this morning in Miami after a midnight arrival there from Atlanta. He apologized here for cutting short his remarks and for canceling a planned walk along the assembly line, where workers had waited to greet him.

Tonight, Mandela spoke at Tiger Stadium before a crowd of about 49,000, including hundreds who had traveled by chartered bus and private cars from Chicago, St. Louis and other midwestern cities.

Quoting lyrics from the late Detroit singer Marvin Gaye, Mandela said, "Brother, brother, there's far too many of you dying. For how long must our brothers and sisters go on dying? For how long must our children be deprived of adulthood? We declare, not for long."

Singer-composer Stevie Wonder, another Detroiter, told Mandela, "I'm very happy that you will take back with you to South Africa the love we have for you."

The crowd had listened as if spellbound while Aretha Franklin, accompanied by a 2,000-voice choir, sang a stirring rendition of "Dream the Impossible Dream," then swayed and clapped to gospel songs until Mandela entered the stadium to shouts in Zulu of "Amandla!" {power}.

Earlier at the Ford plant, many union workers said they regarded Mandela's visit as a symbolic reward to the UAW for its long opposition to apartheid and support for South African divestiture.

More than any other union, the UAW was credited by black nationalists in South Africa with leading the U.S. labor movement's drive for economic sanctions against Pretoria as early as 1968 and, later, substantially backing legal defenses of prominent black leaders accused of security offenses.

From a broader perspective, some union workers said they viewed Mandela's visit as an opportunity to rekindle the spirit of the city's biracial labor and civil-rights coalition, which gathered momentum in the 1960s while Mandela was languishing in prison.

"It's just absolutely important that in Detroit, with our headquarters, with a black mayor, with a large black population . . . that we need an outpouring of people," Bieber said before the arrival.

Organizers of the visit boasted that Detroit easily would top the $1.8 million raised for the ANC last week in New York.

The drive to best the fund-raising efforts of the eight U.S. cities on Mandela's tour came after embarrassment at disclosure last week that Detroit has $359 million in pension-fund holdings invested in companies that retain links with South Africa, or 16 percent of the funds' total holdings.

Ford workers awaited Mandela for hours beyond their shift change in sweltering factory heat. "I worked hard for eight hours all day, but I'd stand here 10 more hours just to see this man," said Sylvester Jennings, 40, an assembly-line worker.

A'ba Shakhan, 53, said Mandela "represents peace, equality and freedom. It's incredible that he's here with us everyday working people. . . . If it weren't for the UAW, there's no telling where the black workers would be, and he represents part of our struggle."

Earlier today, Mandela addressed the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees convention in Miami, where 2,000 people waited outside the hall. About 300 protested his appearance in a city, where feelings run high against Cuban President Fidel Castro, whom Mandela has praised during his U.S. visit.

Cuban activists had persuaded Mayor Xavier Suarez and Cuban-American mayors of five south Florida cities not to extend an official welcome.