CHICAGO -- Shrugging off financial worries, the NAACP convention voted yesterday to establish a permanent mission in South Africa to aid that country's transition to nonracial democracy.
The 3,000 convention delegates also offered the Clinton administration their stamp of approval by giving a speech by Vice President Al Gore a standing ovation.
The two events added up to an encouraging day for the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the NAACP's embattled executive director. He has faced criticism for letting the Baltimore-based civil rights group accrue a $2.7 million deficit and for reaching out to black separatist Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.
Dr. Chavis billed the South Africa resolution, which passed overwhelmingly after debate on whether the NAACP could afford to put an office there, as a victory for his leadership.
"This was the first test vote, and we won it," the leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said. "It shows they're supporting our outreach."
Another test will come as the convention elects a national board member. C. DeLores Tucker, a civil rights veteran and Chavis critic, is running against 26-year-old Delbert Sanders, who is backed by Chavis allies on the board, and three other candidates. A runoff election is likely today.
Dr. Chavis used his control of convention machinery to give the South Africa resolution its best chance of passage. The vote was taken when many delegates had left the hall after the Gore speech, and it was immediately preceded by a videotape in which South African President Nelson Mandela asked the NAACP for its continued support.
Leroy Warren, a Silver Spring member of the NAACP national board, argued that the group was in no financial shape to undertake new programs, but the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch, swayed the delegates with an emotional appeal to the NAACP's responsibility to African people.
Earl T. Shinhoster, an NAACP official who has visited South Africa eight times since September, estimated the cost of an office there as $750,000 to $1 million a year. He said the money must be raised to support the mission.
"The Bible says, 'To whom much is given, much is required.' African-Americans are the wealthiest, best-educated and healthiest Africans on the planet, period," he said. "There is no cost to the NAACP to help African people. That is the mission of the NAACP. God will make a way, He always has."
The NAACP's newly released 1993 annual report confirms that the group has significant money problems. As of the end of 1993, the NAACP had been forced to borrow $2 million to cover operating deficits and expenses from the 1994 Image Awards, a Hollywood production that habitually loses money.
For 1993, the NAACP showed deficits of $640,000 in its general fund and $122,000 in its tax-deductible special contribution fund. These were partly offset by a $426,000 profit from its magazine, the Crisis.
Early this year, the NAACP's cash problem was compounded when the group had to pay a $680,000 court judgment after an appeal failed.
For Dr. Chavis, 46, who took office in April 1993, the financial concerns were eased yesterday by a sense that his leadership was being affirmed.
He was elated by Mr. Gore's 42-minute speech, a mix of self-deprecating humor, recitation of the Clinton administration's legislative accomplishments and broad pledges of commitment to civil rights.
"It was as if an NAACP staffer wrote the speech," Dr. Chavis said.
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who was in the audience, said Mr. Gore's "words are genuine and full of promise, but there needs to be a program to reindustrialize urban America."
Mr. Jackson also attacked as misguided the Clinton "three strikes and you're out" crime bill, a subject that Mr. Gore skirted in his speech.