INDIANAPOLIS -- South African leader Nelson Mandela got the NAACP's annual convention off to a rousing start yesterday by calling on black Americans to help create a "democratic, nonracial and nonsexist" South Africa.
Mr. Mandela, who is expected to become South Africa's first black president next year, said he would ask the United States to end economic sanctions against his country in the "near future."
"Today we talk about elections because the sanctions have worked," said Mr. Mandela, who spent 27 years as a political prisoner in South Africa.
Noting that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has stood against South African apartheid since the civil rights group's founding in 1909, Mr. Mandela urged black Americans to help "the new South Africa" succeed by providing a "better quality of life for all its people, especially the black masses."
Addressing a group that often laments black-on-black crime in U.S. cities, Mr. Mandela paused to explain black-on-black violence in South Africa.
He said the violence was not the result of ethnic conflict, but the acts of "thuggish forces" holding desperately onto "privileged positions given to them by the apartheid system."
"South Africa is no Yugoslavia. Neither is it Somalia or Beirut," he said.
The African National Congress president's appearance added luster to the convention debut of the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the NAACP's new executive director. Dr. Chavis wants to give the civil rights group a more international focus and strengthen its ties with the ANC.
Before Mr. Mandela spoke, NAACP members contributed everything from $20 bills to $1,000 checks in a fund-raiser for the ANC as the South African leader posed for snapshots on the podium.
Dr. Chavis called on a 9-year-old girl from an Indianapolis public housing project to help him introduce the South African leader, and Mr. Mandela responded by saying, "Our problems related with youth are identical with yours."
The convention also saw a video message from President Clinton, who said his administration and the NAACP were linked by the "vision of investing in our people. . . . We don't have a person to waste."
The crowd that poured into the Indiana Convention Center to hear Mr. Mandela passed a line of protesters demonstrating against the NAACP's support for gay rights.
The group, Concerned Citizens for Traditional Family Values, carried signs with slogans such as, "NAACP: From Selma to Sodom" and "Dr. King Had a Dream -- This Is a Nightmare."
Phyllis Berry Myers, a protester from Washington, said the NAACP's support of gay rights is at odds with traditional African-American values.
Dr. Chavis, who joined the April gay rights march in Washington, has argued that as a civil rights group, the NAACP must fight all forms of discrimination.
Mr. Mandela arrived here from Los Angeles, where he solicited funds for the ANC and met with celebrities, including Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor.