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Mandela presses the flesh in marginal constituencies: ANC leader campaigns hard in 'Coloured' heartland

CALLS to war by Mangosuthu Buthelezi after his decision to boycott South Africa's first democratic elections had little impact on Nelson Mandela, who was campaigning cheerfully yesterday in Cape Town, the one city in the country where the African National Congress is not assured of victory.

The ANC president spent much of the morning in church, lunchtime in a black township and the afternoon in an area inhabited by a group neither entirely white nor entirely black who go, according to the apartheid definition, by the name of 'Coloured'. In not one of his speeches did he make reference to the leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

This was surprising as Chief Buthelezi, following the lead of his allies in the white ultra-right, had failed to register for the April elections by Saturday's deadline. Yesterday morning in a speech in Natal he raised the pitch of his war-talk higher than usual.

Claiming that the ANC had embarked on a campaign of 'ethnic cleansing', Chief Buthelezi said: 'We must defend our communities with all our might. We must defend and fight back.'

The ANC leader, under bright blue skies 1,000 miles south, was in no mood to dwell on dark thoughts. He was having a good day. The Western Cape, whose capital is Cape Town, is the one province in South Africa where an element of suspense exists as to the result of the April vote. The ANC is certain to dominate the new national parliament and, according to the polls, to capture eight of the nine provincial parliaments. The reason why there is some doubt in the Cape Town area is that it is the only region where blacks are not in the majority. Coloureds here make up more than 50 per cent of the population. One concern among the Coloured population is that the ANC, contaminated by its alliance with the Communist Party, is not God- fearing enough. Thus Mr Mandela spent two hours attending a service at the New Apostolic Church in the Coloured township of Mitchell's Plain.

He did not speak, for this was a particularly conservative denomination. But all eyes were on him and after the last prayer had been said, he proceeded to shake hands with every man, woman and child, each of whom turned away - their faces said it - in a state of grace, as if they had just touched the Pope.

At Nyanga, a black township down the road, Mr Mandela was the Messiah. Here he did preach, but no one needed converting. This was 'Nelson Mandela superstar' territory. When he promised jobs for all, houses, water, electricity, no one thought to doubt him.

Retreat, a Coloured suburb in the shadow of Table Mountain, presented more of a challenge. These people had been discriminated against but not as much as the blacks. The rally at Nyanga had been conducted in a dustbowl of a soccer stadium surrounded on all sides by shanty settlements. Here the setting was a green cricket pitch, the venue a large white marquee. Vendors sold ice cream, hotdogs, Cokes. Everybody wore shoes.

Some of those who had turned up were not sure who they would vote for. 'We worry the ANC will now discriminate in favour of blacks. We think that maybe we will be better off with de Klerk, with the devil we know,' said a young insurance agent called David Adams.

The ANC's Western Cape election managers knew that here, unlike Nyanga, the choreography matters. They also knew that the people of Retreat enjoyed a song and a dance. Mr Mandela's arrival on stage was marked accordingly with a prolonged burst of 'We Are The World' on the loudspeaker system. The marquee came alive. Everybody leapt to their feet, everybody danced, including Mr Mandela, who danced like a teenager.

Then, US-style, came the endorsements. A Christian church minister was called on to say what was billed as a prayer but turned out to be a paean of praise to Mr Mandela. A Muslim imam followed suit, only more vigorously. Then Miss South Africa 1992, a Coloured woman, presented Mr Mandela with a gift.

After the packaging came the speech: 27 years in prison (18 of them off the Cape Town shore) had made this his home, Mr Mandela said. The ANC's message was non- racialism. 'All of you, without exception, are my flesh and blood. My aspirations are your aspirations]. My ambitions are your ambitions] My victory is your victory]' The marquee exploded.