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S. AFRICA INDIFFERENT, CRITICAL AS MANDELA TOURS

Nelson Mandela is drawing huge crowds and garnering accolades at every stop on his international tour. But at home, the reaction ranges from indifference to criticism.

Teacher strikes in black schools, the African National Congress' rivalry with other black groups, and even the troubled marriage of a black pop singer have all been judged more interesting by the editors of the Sowetan, the largest black daily newspaper.The Sowetan - based in the Soweto township where Mandela lives - generally gives close coverage to his activities. But it has not published a front-page story or picture of his trip since he left South Africa on June 4.

Mandela begins an eight-city U.S. visit on Wednesday, when he will arrive in New York. On Monday Mandela told tens of thousands of supporters that South Africa is "on the threshold of major changes," but "the last hurdles are the most difficult to overcome."

Mandela's repeated calls for continued economic sanctions against white-ruled South Africa have drawn criticism from another leading black newspaper, one that traditionally backs the ANC.

"Sanctions cannot be prolonged any longer," City Press said in an editorial Sunday. "We do not want to inherit a wasteland."

The newspaper, South Africa's largest black weekly, argued that it might be time for a policy reassessment by the ANC: "In the light of the government's reform policy, has the time not come for the ANC to review the use of sanctions as a strategy to end apartheid?"

Mandela, released Feb. 11 after more than 27 years in prison, has received almost daily coverage in white-oriented newspapers and government-run television. Most of those reports have focused on the sanctions issue and what the publications perceive as uncritical adulation of the ANC leader.

"We do not begrudge the Americans their right to fete him," said The Citizen, a pro-government daily. "But we do feel they should welcome Mr. Mandela, the man, rather than Mr. Mandela, the legend, the god, the new Christ."

Many South Africans - both black and white - believe the country's political and racial conflicts are largely internal matters that will be decided by South Africans rather than outsiders.

That may be the reason that reports about foreigners' response to Mandela's message has drawn little interest.