Visit That Skipped the Script Negative Media Coverage Mars Symbolic Occasion for South Africans as Their Leaders Visit the US

Article excerpt

SOUTH Africans held their collective breath over the July 4 weekend as the country's white president and its black president-in-waiting met in Philadelphia to receive the Liberty Medal from President Clinton on Independence Day.

To American television audiences, everything appeared to go according to plan.

President Frederick de Klerk, the white leader who helped dismantle apartheid, smiled as he shook hands with African National Congress (ANC) President Nelson Mandela, the man who directed apartheid's negotiated demise.

But, to South Africans, expecting their leaders to put on a good show, the visit did not go according to plan at all.

"SA Squabbles Ruin the Show," proclaimed the Sunday Times of Johannesburg, the country's newspaper with the largest circulation.

The Sowetan, the major daily newspaper read by black South Africans, published a cartoon of Mr. Mandela and Mr. De Klerk in the boxing ring, with a glum-looking Mr. Clinton presenting them medals.

The negative media coverage was based on the fact that Mandela, under pressure both from his own constituency and the United States anti-apartheid lobby for appearing to get too close to De Klerk, refused to be photographed with Clinton after the two had met separately with him in the White House on July 2.

At a Washington media conference, apparently miffed by De Klerk's announcement that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was ready to give South Africa a loan of $850 million, Mandela said De Klerk was "irrelevant to the lifting of sanctions."

Business Day's Washington correspondent Simon Barber wrote in his weekly column: "The script called for them {Mandela and De Klerk} to be South Africa's George Washington, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson rolled into one. …