AS A MEASURE of how far South Africa has travelled since the Soweto students' uprising of 1976, the anniversary of which was marked yesterday by peaceful rallies up and down the country, a gathering attended by the white female population's black heart-throb was hard to beat.
Tokyo Sexwale, voted South Africa's sexiest man last month by the predominantly white audience of a local radio station, is a former guerrilla fighter and political prisoner who now runs the African National Congress in the Johannesburg area.
Yesterday morning he addressed a political meeting at the City Hall, a venue more commonly associated with the ruling National Party.
Dramatising the ANC's conquest of this bastion of white authority, Mr Sexwale, 40, led the assembled 'comrades' in a protest song. 'Viva ANC] Viva Nelson Mandela]' he boomed before embarking on an unprepared half-hour speech ('I had one written, but Nelson Mandela stole it from me this morning.') Over in Soweto, in the traditional 'struggle' setting of Orlando soccer stadium, Nelson Mandela read out Mr Sexwale's speech, somehow managing to keep the crowd of 15,000 people absorbed. Mr Mandela called dramatically for 'the youth' to join the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) 'in droves'. But Mr Mandela, immensely charming as he is in private, is not a natural public speaker. To make matters worse, just as he was beginning his speech, a police helicopter flew overhead and dropped thousands of pamphlets. Mr Mandela, no longer able to make himself heard, had to sit down.
The police message offered a reward of 20,000 rand (pounds 4,000) 'to any individual who can supply them with information which will lead to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who committed an armed robbery on 2 February 1993 at Comuta revenue office'.
The incident offered an unnecessary reminder to all present that 17 years ago the police had opened fire on and killed hundreds of schoolchildren. The cry went up in the stadium 'Kill the Boer] Kill the Boer]' - and it was like the old days again.