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Who is the real Nelson Mandela? Before his supporters drape him in the garments of Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King Jr., they should take a close look.

Clearly, as deputy president of the African National Congress, Mandela has views regarding post-apartheid South Africa that are of great interest. But so are those of President F. W. de Klerk, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the Inkatha organization, the leaders of the Pan-African Congress and other principals in the dialogue about South Africa's future.

Understandably, Americans are eager to hear Mandela's opinions delivered in person, after his release from 27 years of imprisonment. But he, in turn, needs to answer one simple question: Why won't he and the ANC renounce violence?

While armed resistance is justified in certain circumstances, growing violence throughout South Africa now threatens the process of peaceful reform. Clearly, Mandela's stature should now be used to preach a message of non-violence and civil disobedience.

Dr. King advocated non-violence. "The method of non-violent resistance is effective in that it has a way of disarming opponents," Dr. King said. "It exposes their moral defenses, weakens their morale and at the same time works on their conscience. It makes possible for the individual to struggle for moral ends through moral means." In sharp contrast to King, Mandela continues to call for an "armed struggle."

Mandela's conflicting public statements on violence may be prolonging the suffering. At a May 26 rally in Atterigeville, Mandela said of rival black groups: "There are organizations which have imaginary armies, who have not conducted a single armed struggle in this country, who criticize us for trying to secure peace. Our patience is not likely to last very long." Two days later, the ANC clashed with members of the Azanian People's Organization, a militant black-consciousness movement, in Maokeng, Orange Free State. Seven people were injured, three seriously.

The stain of violence has even touched Mandela's wife, Winnie, and her personal bodyguard squad, the "Mandela United Football Club." The brutal beating and stabbing death last year of James (Stompie) Mokhetsi Seipei, a 14-year-old black youth accused by the defendants of collaboration, is a shocking tragedy close to the Mandela inner circle.

The government insists that Mrs. Mandela had no role in the beatings or killing. Nevertheless, two children who survived the beatings alleged in court testimony that Mrs. Mandela beat Stompie and flogged him with a leather whip.

These and other acts of ANC violence and intimidation call into question the group's commitment to political pluralism. The concept of pluralism is founded in tolerance for opposing views. The violence and intimidation of apartheid are what Mandela seeks to wring out of South African society. It seems unlikely he will achieve that through violence and intimidation.

Americans must question Mandela on the ANC's use of violence. Those of us who are genuinely interested in his opinions regarding a post-apartheid South Africa must neither be swayed by the adulation of his admirers nor the contempt of his critics.

DAVID G. SANDERS is a minority staff consultant to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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