Mandela preaches tolerance to Farrakhan

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Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam in the US, and Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa, stood side by side yesterday on the porch of Mr Mandela's Johannesburg house and proclaimed they were like two peas in a pod.

"All of the principles that President Mandela outlined [to us] we agree with totally. Islam is a religion which, if practiced, disallows racialism, racism, injustice, tyranny and oppression," said the controversial Muslim cleric after his meeting with Mr Mandela. President Mandela said: "Our meeting has been very short and we were able to cover only those things that were considered to be fundamental. And there was no issue which arose on which there was disagreement."

It was a surprising result to an encounter between two black leaders who seem to stand for opposite viewpoints on everything from religious tolerance to black-white relations.

Mr Farrakhan's history of anti-Semitic outbursts and stinging attacks on white society have resulted in his being labelled a hate-monger, a black ultra-nationalist and a racist. Mr Mandela is widely regarded as an almost saintly figure, a man whose emphasis on reconciliation has ensured the success to date of South Africa's democratic transformation.

Before Mr Farrakhan even touched down on South African soil yesterday, the mere mention of his visit generated huge controversy among white South Africans, who feared the minister wanted to spread his divisive doctrine here.

The sparks flew when it was announced late last week that Mr Mandela had agreed to Mr Farrakhan's request for a meeting. There was dismay in white liberal quarters as well as in right-wing circles that Mr Mandela was willing to be seen with such a controversial figure.

The neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance Movement said the planned meeting unmasked the President's "anti-white" sentiments. A Jewish student group accused Mr Mandela of being insensitive to the feelings of the largely pro-ANC Jewish community. But the President defended his position yesterday.

"As the leader of ANC and as President of this country I have accommodated a wide range of views," he said.

"I have seen not only people with whom I agree [but] I have met people and had discussions with those whose views are diametrically opposed to my own. I saw no reason to exclude Mr Farrakhan."

Mr Mandela did not appear to pull any punches with Mr Farrakhan, and left the impression he lectured him on the need for tolerance.

During his visit Mr Farrakhan intends to visit black townships, squatter camps and Muslim leaders. Most black South Africans seem to have supported Mr Mandela's decision to meet him.