Mr Mandela told the Senate there was significant popular opposition to the 1.6bn rand (pounds 270m) plan to buy four corvettes, equivalent to European light frigates. "You can't just run ahead of your own people," he said.
The President also criticised the handling of the bidding process, which was launched before his African National Congress won power in South Africa's first all-race poll a year ago.
"It does not appear that this matter was well handled. I have letters from presidents and premiers in the Nordic countries; Prime Minister Major has been bombarding me with letters in this regard; the French, Chancellor Kohl, they all want this contract," Mr Mandela said. ReuterReuse content