The only evidence of his 74 years, and tiredness, was his request to a few questioners to come closer or to speak up 'because I am hard of hearing'. But he might as easily have blamed the room's acoustics.
He was in Britain, he said, at the invitation of the Prime Minister, who had shown 'a great deal of interest' in what was happening in South Africa. Mr Mandela said he had been in regular touch with Margaret Thatcher when she was prime minister and the same now applied to John Major. 'I have found his advice fairly useful on a number of issues,' he said. 'We have never forgotten that Britain is the home of parliamentary democracy and that is what our efforts are directed at. We naturally expect Britain to play a role in this.'
He said that there was a difference of opinion about methods. 'We believe in sanctions, they do not. But on the basic issue of the overthrow of apartheid we see eye to eye.'
Mr Mandela is to meet Mr Major today, after lunch with the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, and a meeting with the Labour leader, John Smith. This evening he will address members of the Commons and Lords.
He said that he would ask Mr Major to do what he was already doing - to support the peace process in South Africa and to ensure that every political organisation there took part. That seemed a clear request to Britain to put particular pressure on the Zulu leader, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, to remain in the current constitutional talks. But Mr Mandela tactfully noted that his concern was not with any individual but with ensuring support from the leaders of all parties.
Investment from abroad, he said, was crucial for South Africa to overcome the huge deficiencies left by white rule. But the world would be 'allowed to invest' only once a date had been announced for the first democratic elections (to be held, it is expected, by April next year). The violence in the country was a serious obstacle to investment, he said, especially as South Africa would be competing for funds with the Far East and Eastern Europe. 'The greatest threat to the peace process in South Africa is not with black surrogate groups as (President F W) de Klerk and others are trying to convince South Africa and the world,' said Mr Mandela. 'The greatest threat . . . is from the right wing.' But, he went on: 'We can only address this when there is a democratic government' to replace the present one, which was 'corrupt and has lost credibility'.
As the press conference drew to a close a television journalist put the obvious but hitherto unspoken question: what was the state of his health? Mr Mandela laughed. 'Tomorrow I plan to jog,' he said, and invited her to join him.
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