LOS ANGELES, JUNE 30 -- After 11 days and six cities, the Nelson Mandela tour had reached the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. A crowd of 75,000 had come Friday to hear from this former guerrilla fighter and political prisoner who has become for many the embodiment of universal hope.
And what they saw is what Americans may remember best: the extraordinary stately bearing of a man driven, sometimes to near exhaustion, by a mission he has declared unstoppable.
Mandela spoke slowly. His voice sounded strained. He removed his silver-rimmed glasses, revealing eyes more puffed than usual and a face more deeply lined. Although the night was cool, his brow was sweaty. He mopped it slowly with a cloth. It was clear that he was weary. But ever the statesman, clear of his purpose, his carriage remained erect.
Today in Oakland, the last stop on his tour, Mandela declared himself rejuvenated. "I feel," he told a crowd of some 50,000 in the Oakland Coliseum, "like an old battery that has been recharged . . . . It is the people of the United States of America that are responsible for this."
Mandela's impact on those who saw him, who heard him, who traveled with him was, with some exceptions, profound. Each morning on his American tour, he greeted members of his delegation as if he were seeing them for the first time, Roger Wilkins, who helped organize the tour and traveled with the ANC delegation, said in an interview this week.
"He will greet each one. 'Hello, Zwelakhe. Hello, Tommy. Hello, Barbara.' He greets each one and touches each one and smiles. . . . It seems to be saying you're valuable and I'm glad you're here with me.' "
Mandela seemed always serene -- not stoic and detached, but crystal clear about his place in history, Wilkins said.
"I've never met anyone like him, and I'm 58 years old," said Wilkins, a professor at George Mason University. "This man eclipses anybody I've ever seen."
Mandela, 71, deputy president of the once-banned African National Congress, was, he said, not pleading his own case, but the case of the millions of black South Africans who live under the suffocating repression of the white minority government. His personal stature, he insisted, was simply a reflection of his organization, and nothing he deserved credit for himself.
From Boston to Miami, Atlanta to Oakland, in a schedule that would have worn on a man half his age, Mandela spoke on. "We cannot lose, we cannot lose," he said. "The people of the world will not allow us to lose."
He was the Mandela of forgiveness, railing against the oppression and death that have been apartheid's hallmarks, but who was willing nonetheless, he said, to "let bygones be bygones."
Mandela the unwavering freedom fighter told of his hope for peaceful change in South Africa, but said the ANC must reserve the right, if the talking fails, to again wage war.
Mandela the loyal comrade refused to disavow those whose leadership appears to many too contradictory to the cause of human rights.
Mandela the diplomat spoke of the kinship of blacks in the United States and South Africa, but outlined stark differences in their separate struggles and refused to be drawn into the American racial debate.
He was the Mandela of unrelenting clarity, who came to the United States seeking moral and financial support, but not at the expense of his convictions.
Although he appeared weary at times, Mandela's health held. Shortly before his departure from Johannesburg, he had undergone surgery to remove a benign cyst from his bladder. A physician traveling with him in the United States examined him daily, said Essop Bahad, an ANC member and Mandela speechwriter. "The doctor is satisfied."
Wherever he went, Mandela, along with his wife, Winnie Mandela, stirred emotions. Throngs of supporters pushed and shoved and shrieked to get a glimpse of him. Politicans and personalities jockeyed to be in his presence, in front of the cameras, by Mandela's side.
So powerful were his words that they elicited goose bumps and tears, although in one case, Miami, his words motivated protest by Cuban Americans angered at Mandela's praise of Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Some Jews also were rankled by Mandela's utterances, in this case about Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat. Mandela praised Arafat for the PLO's support, details of which Mandela refused to divulge, for the South African liberation struggle.
This rift was in part the subject of a half-hour meeting Friday between Mandela and Natan Sharansky, a Soviet Jew and former political prisoner.
Sharansky is just over five feet tall. Mandela stands more than six feet. The two former prisoners joked, said Sharansky, about the relative benefits of each other's stature. "You know it's much better to be short in prison," Sharansky said after the meeting. If a prisoner is tall and his uniform is too small, he will be cold. But if the prisoner is short and the uniform long, "it's warmer."
Jokes aside, Sharansky left the meeting saying he and Mandela found common ground despite their "objective disagreement' on the PLO.
The Mandelas and members of the ANC delegation left Oakland late today afternoon en route to Dublin. Before leaving, Mandela told a brief but packed news conference at the Hyatt Regency Oakland Hotel that he felt his trip had been a success.
"I and my delegation are extremely excited about the manner in which we have been welcomed by the people of this country . . . black and white, from all sections and from people of different political affiliations," Mandela said.
Mandela came face to face with an American public, especially its black segment, more supportive of his cause than he had anticipated.
It was "an exceptionally pleasant surprise," Bahad said. "Nobody knew this until Mandela arrived. It was impossible to determine the scale and the scope of the feeling."
The ANC also counts as a success Mandela's meeting with President Bush, in which Mandela argued the case for continued U.S. economic sanctions against South Africa. After the meeting, Bush said the sanctions, for now, would remain in place.
The ANC, banned for 30 years in South Africa until last February, came to the United States seeking money to finance the rebuilding of the organization. By trip's end, no one had yet tallied the checks and pledges received by the group, but several profitable fund-raisers will likely place the total in the millions. "So we are happy, but we want more," Bahad said.
So single-minded in purpose is Mandela that those who traveled with him said he was rarely swept up the moments that so deeply affected Americans who saw him.
"His reactions to things convey to me a sense of serenity that comprehends a much longer span of time than most of us live in," said Wilkins. "So I think that although he is surely aware of the moment, his emotional and spiritual context is so vast that no moment seems to engulf him."
But for Wilkins, some of the moments were priceless.
At a $2,500-per-person fund-raiser at actor Robert De Niro's TriBeCa Film Center and Grill in New York, Mandela's often serious face broke into a huge grin when boxer Joe Frazier walked up to the Mandela table, Wilkins said.
" 'Smokin' Joe! Smokin' Joe!' " Wilkins remembered Mandela saying. The ANC leader was a boxer in his youth.
Mandela's joy at Frazier's appearance "was pure ecstasy. His face was as if the sun came out."
What most struck Harry Belafonte, another tour organizer, was that Mandela never veered from his course.
"He has not lost his identity," Belafonte said. "He's not lost his focus. He's not lost his sense of purpose and no matter how broad the canvas, he always defines himself in terms of the cause of liberation."
And Mandela said today that his cause will bring him back to the United States in October. At that time he will take up the cause of American Indians, he said, adding that he had received letters from Native Americans describing their situation, and "I can assure you they have left me very disturbed."