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Mandela Addresses U.N., Plans to Wipe Out S. African Racism

By Stanley Meisler
Los Angeles Times

Symbolizing one of the great triumphs of the United Nations, Nelson Mandela addressed the General Assembly on Monday for the first time as president of South Africa and pledged to wipe out racism in his divided country.

"The road that we shall have to travel to reach this destination will by no means be easy," he said. "All of us know how stubbornly racism can cling to the mind and how deeply it can infect the human soul.

"And yet however hard this battle will be," he went on, "we will not surrender."

The symbolism for the United Nations was clear. For decades, the General Assembly had mounted a vigorous campaign against the racist apartheid system of South Africa. The relentless campaign, which prompted many countries to impose sanctions, made South Africa a pariah among nations and contributed to the atmosphere that finally persuaded its white leaders to give up apartheid.

Speaking slowly in booming tones, Mandela told the General Assembly that the historic change in South Africa "has come about not least because of the great efforts in which the U.N. engaged to ensure the suppression of the apartheid crime against humanity."

"The millions of our people," he went on, "say thank you and thank you again that the respect for your own dignity as human beings inspired you to act to ensure the restoration of our dignity as well."

Mandela began his speech by noting that "it surely must be one of the great ironies of our age that this august assembly is addressed, for the first time in 49 years, by a South African head of state drawn from among the African majority of what is an African country."

While pledging that he and his people intend to create "a truly non-racial society," Mandela said their success would "depend on our ability to change the material conditions of life of our people so that they not only have the vote, but they have bread and work as well.

"We therefore return to the United Nations," he said, "to make the commitment that as we undertook never to rest until the system of apartheid was defeated, so do we now undertake that we cannot rest while millions of our people suffer the pain and indignity of poverty in all its forms."