Mandela Gets Hero’s Welcome On First Foreign Trip
LUSAKA, Zambia (AP) _ Nelson Mandela received a hero’s welcome today as he set foot on foreign soil for the first time in 28 years.
The black nationalist leader embraced exiled members of his African National Congress and seven African presidents in an emotional ceremony on the tarmac at the Lusaka airport.
President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, whose Southern African nation has hosted the ANC’s exile headquarters for almost two decades, was the first to greet Mandela and his wife, Winnie.
To drumbeats, Mandela was draped with garlands of red and white flowers by the children of ANC exiles. Dozens of young ANC guerrillas wearing black berets, ANC T-shirts and military fatigues looked on.
In his six-day visit, Mandela will meet African and Commonwealth leaders, as well as with exiled ANC leaders from the organization’s 35-member national executive committee and military wing. No agenda for the ANC meetings has been released but officials indicated ANC strategy and Mandela’s role within the group would be discussed.
Zambian officials said the talks with regional leaders will have the most impact on political life in Southern Africa since the 1979 Lusaka Commonwealth summit. That meeting cleared the way for the end of white minority rule in the former British colony of Rhodesia, now independent Zimbabwe.
About 10,000 people, including many South African exiles, cheered, waving the ANC’s distinctive black, green and gold colors, when Mandela left the plane and raised a clenched-fist salute.
He told the crowd he was happy to be visiting the second home of exiled ANC leaders who molded the organization into a powerful political and military force.
″They have led and directed our people to the point where we are on the verge of a breathrough in our struggle for freedom,″ Mandela said.
He praised Kaunda as a peacemaker who tried to persuade successive governments in Pretoria to open dialogue with the ANC.
But ″if we are compelled to resort to arms...the responsibility for this lies firmly on the shoulders of the government,″ he said.
Tens of thousands of well-wishers, exhorted by full-page advertisements in government newspapers, lined the 15-mile route from Lusaka airport to Kuanda’s official residence, where Mandela will stay.
People waited in sweltering tropical temperatures for several hours to catch a glimpse of the ANC leader, who was released from prison in South Africa on Feb. 11.
The crowds waved green branches, a traditional African symbol of rejoicing, in the biggest public turnout since Pope John Paul II’s visit last May.
Kaunda declared today a national holiday and Nelson Mandela Day. Factories, offices and shops were closed in Lusaka, a city of 1 million. City authorities temporarily lifted a ban on public gatherings imposed last month to curb an outbreak of cholera that has killed more than 80 people.
Mandela, leading a 20-member delegation of ANC leaders from South Africa, was taken by a high-speed motorcade of limousines to Lusaka’s main conference complex, where he was to meet visiting foreign dignitaries.
During his stay in Zambia, Mandela will meet with leaders from Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as from the 49- nation Commonwealth of former British territories.
″We will obviously be examining how to proceed with the political struggle and the armed struggle,″ a senior ANC official said on condition of anonymity.
He said the meeting will also select a 10-member ANC delegation for preliminary talks with South African President F.W. de Klerk. The talks will clear the way for negotiations on full participation in South Africa by the 28 million disenfranchised blacks.
The ANC says reforms announced by de Klerk, including the lifting of a 30- year ban on the ANC on Feb. 2 and Mandela’s release, do not go far enough. But on Feb. 16, the group said it was willing to hold its first direct talks with Pretoria.