March 28, 1998 in Nation/World

Mandela Takes Clinton To Task Ex-Political Prisoner Tells President To Negotiate With Enemies

From Wire Reports

Seizing on the moral authority he draws from his extraordinary personal history, South African President Nelson Mandela pointedly told President Clinton on Friday to follow his lead and negotiate face to face with his enemies to solve conflicts peacefully.

Mandela defended his friendships with dictators Fidel Castro of Cuba and Moammar Gadhafi of Libya - who provided money and military equipment in the battle against South Africa’s forced racial separation - and used his experience as a political-prisoner-turned-president to caution that peace can only be achieved by engaging even the most abhorrent of foes.

“We had a government which had slaughtered our people, massacred them like flies,” Mandela said during a press conference. “It was very repugnant to think that we could sit down and talk with these people, but we had to subject our blood to our brains and to say without these enemies of ours, we can never bring about a peaceful transformation in this country. And that is what we did.”

As the world’s leader, the United States should help eliminate tensions by saying to its enemies: “Let’s sit down and talk peace,” said Mandela, who, with thenSouth African President F.W. de Klerk, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Clinton, standing a couple of feet away, did not respond to Mandela’s seemingly unsolicited advice. But aides later tried to downplay the significance of the elder statesman’s discourse, saying the two leaders simply agreed to disagree.

Mandela may be the only world leader with the sufficient moral authority and veneration to publicly lecture the president of the United States and get away with it. And he did, judging from the warmth with which Clinton addressed him the rest of the day.

On Robben Island, about 8 miles off the coast of Cape Town, the two presidents walked with their arms around each other as they entered the long, narrow corridor leading to the jail cell where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years as a political prisoner.

“This was my home,” Mandela told Clinton, as they entered Cell 5. The tiny, gray cell in the former prison’s isolation block contains only a metal slop bucket, a pile of worn, felt blankets and a tin plate, cup and spoon.

“It was so big at the time,” Mandela said, lightheartedly. “I don’t know why it’s so small now.”

When they emerged from the one-story, stone building that houses Cell Block B, Clinton said his first thought “was to thank God that the person who occupied this cell was able to live all those years in that way without having his heart turn to stone and without giving up on his dreams for South Africa.”

Earlier, he said Mandela’s emergence from Robben Island was “one of the true heroic stories of the 20th century.”

Mandela’s history, his move in just four years from that dim cell to the presidential mansion, lent an air of gravitas to the first-ever press conference held by a U.S. president on South African soil. Clinton stumbled slightly as he helped Mandela, who is 79 and plagued by arthritic knees, down a flight of stairs to face reporters in the garden behind Mandela’s home.

Mandela said Clinton’s visit was “the high-water mark” for the new democracy that is South Africa. Even when they differ, he said, he respects Clinton as a man of considerable integrity.

The White House has made clear for some time that it is unhappy with Mandela’s continued association with the leaders of pariah states. But Mandela made equally clear that no amount of criticism will dissuade him from friendships with the heads of nations that helped South Africa’s black people in general and him in particular during the painful struggle to end apartheid.

Mandela pointedly said that the first head of state he invited to South Africa was Castro, and that he also has received former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani and Gadhafi. He did so, he said, “because our moral authority dictates that we should not abandon those who helped us in the darkest hour in the history of this country.

“And those South Africans who have berated me for being loyal to our friends, literally, they can go and throw themselves into a pool,” Mandela said, eliciting energetic laughs from Clinton and many others.

Furthermore, during a visit to Libya in October, Mandela bestowed on Gadhafi South Africa’s highest honor, the Order of Good Hope, a medal he also gave Clinton during a state dinner Friday night.

Following Mandela’s statement, Clinton reiterated the themes of his 12-day trip to Africa, including the need for the United States to increase trade and support for a continent undergoing a major shift from repressive regimes to more democratic governments.

One of the chief purposes of Clinton’s 12-day trip to Africa is to persuade nations here that by becoming democracies or increasing the liberties they grant people, they will benefit economically from their relations with the United States.

Friday, Mandela said that plan is “not acceptable,” stressing that people in non-democratic countries are sometimes “looked after better than in so-called democratic countries.”

He also said: “We have democratic countries, but where poverty of the masses of the people is rife.”

Later in the day, Mandela said: “Mr. President, democracy without solving poverty, hunger, illiteracy is an empty shell.”

Clinton proposes to increase development aid to sub-Saharan Africa, from $700 million this year to $730 million next year and more in the future, which, Boni said, was “quite a significant thing to say.”

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