Former South African President Nelson Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, arrived in Seattle this morning for a whirlwind three-day tour of the city, aimed at raising money for their charities, building bridges between Africa and Seattle's high-tech community and spending time with students and community groups.
Mandela and Machel were greeted by the rousing cheers of about 800 schoolchildren, whom he encouraged to pay attention to their teachers, do their homework and stay away from drugs and alcohol.
"If you do that you will be members of Congress. You will be the ambassadors representing the United States in other countries . . . You will be a vice president like Al Gore. You will be a president like Bill Clinton," Mandela said during a welcoming ceremony inside a Boeing Field hangar.
One of the first groups to welcome the couple was the Leschi School choir. The children sang the South African national anthem, and Mandela and Machel stopped to shake their hands and kiss them.
"She kissed me right here," said Dominique Jones, pointing to her forehead.
"I got to shake his hand. He was really nice, and it felt like joy," said Christopher Hammond, 9.
Also among the 1,000 on hand to greet Mandela and Machel were Native American dancers, Gov. Gary Locke, Seattle Mayor Paul Schell and other local politicians.
Mandela and Machel came to Seattle at the invitation of Craig and Susan McCaw, whom they met during a telecommunications conference in South Africa last year. Craig McCaw is co-founder of Teledesic, which is building a satellite network for high-speed Internet access and other services.
The visit is being sponsored by the McCaws, with some of the events supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Russell Family Foundation.
The main purpose of the visit is to raise money for Mandela's and Machel's charities: The Nelson Mandela Foundation is a nonprofit corporation working to solve conflicts and bring peace to African countries, and Machel's Community Development Foundation is a micro-lending organization working to ease poverty in Mozambique.
Ticket sales to the main fund-raising event, a dinner tonight at the Sheraton Hotel, have already raised close to $300,000.
Mandela, 81, and Machel 53, also hope to create bridges between Africa's developing nation's and Seattle's educational institutions, high-tech companies and health-care industries. The couple will spend time in community reading programs, at a health-care forum and at Teledesic headquarters in Bellevue.
Bob Ratliffe, top aide for Craig McCaw, said the original plan was to bring Mandela to Seattle during last week's World Trade Organization conference, but organizers changed their minds.
`We were ever grateful'
At today's welcoming ceremony, Mandela thanked anti-apartheid activists in the U.S., saying they kept the hope alive when world leaders allowed apartheid to continue.
"They lifted our spirits. We knew that our cause would triumph," Mandela said. "We were ever grateful for that support."
An activist with the African National Congress, Mandela spent more than 27 years in prison for opposing whites-only rule in South Africa. He was freed in 1990 and elected president in 1994.
While there were some anti-apartheid activists in attendance this morning, they were not part of the official ceremony.
Access to Mandela has been strictly controlled. All of the public events require advance tickets - all gone now - and security clearances.
Native Americans were left out
Robert Galvin, a member of the Tewa Native American groups of the Southwest, said organizers of the Mandela visit did not seem aware that Native Americans would want to be included.
Galvin said he told them, "Mandela is a tribal person and tribal protocol dictates that he be received by indigenous people whose tribal land he visits."
At this morning's welcoming ceremony, Mandela was given a "talking stick" carved by a Coast Salish artist. "That gives him the authority to speak to us," Galvin said.
He said there would be a private audience with members of the Duwamish Tribe Friday morning.
Activists were also slighted
Also, activists who took to Seattle streets for four years during the South Africans' bloody struggle against apartheid have expressed disappointment at not being included in the plans for the visit.
"I sent a letter to the welcoming committee saying this was not in the spirit of Mandela," said Selma Waldman, one of hundreds who spent time most weekends from 1984 to 1988 protesting at the South African consul's residence in Madison Park.
"It just was not like him to forget us," Waldman said. "He's very supportive of the friends of the struggle. It probably wasn't malicious, but a lot of us were hurt when we weren't included in the plans."
Organizers later invited Waldman and several other people - including Charlie James, who wrote an op-ed piece for The Seattle Times about the snub - to the welcoming ceremony.
Maryamu Eltayeb-Givens was one of the activists to get the belated invitation. Eltayeb-Givens, who teaches at First Place, a program for homeless children, said she had pleaded with organizers to let her class meet Mandela. Organizers told her "logistics" wouldn't allow it.
"It's really too bad," she said last night. "We tell the children about Martin Luther King and all the civil-rights people, but those people are so old to the children. They're all dead. Here's a living legend walking among them."
Marjorie Prince, former chairwoman of the Church Council of Greater Seattle's Task Force on Southern Africa, said she decided to boycott the invitation because activists weren't included in the planning and because Mandela's visit is sponsored by McCaw and Gates.
"I know that South Africa needs investments but since I protested at the WTO just last week, it would be hypocritical of me to go there as the guest of multinational corporations this week," Prince said.
As far back as 1978, people like Waldman, Eltayeb-Givens and Prince joined with church leaders and the African-American community to push for an end to apartheid. While black South Africans were leading bloody uprisings in the blacks-only township of Soweto, members of the Seattle Coalition Against Apartheid were urging banks to stop making loans to South Africa and beginning their long protest at the home of Joseph Swing, South Africa's honorary consul in Seattle.
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