SOWETO, South Africa - When Nelson Mandela awoke about 5 a.m. Wednesday in his matchbox of a home at 8115 Vilikazi St., he did his exercises as he did every morning in prison. From that point on, during his first day at home, Mandela's daily routine altered radically.
From dawn until past dusk, when a sudden cloudburst sent rivers of muddy water running down the street, clearing the roadside of the throng that had gathered there, Mandela was a man besieged.
There were prominent well-wishers from across Soweto and the black townships around Johannesburg, the incessant telephone calls and the men and women with cameras, tape recorders and notebooks, a clamoring class of media people of whom the nationalist leader had no first-hand knowledge until he left prison on Sunday.
According to an official of the African National Congress, more than 1,000 requests for interviews had been telephoned, telexed, faxed and shouted across the Vilikazi Street fence by 5 p.m. Wednesday, and more kept coming. The bids came from more than 100 countries., When he stepped into his garden for the first of about 15 10-minute television interviews Wednesday morning, Mandela hesitated when one of the technicians thrust a long device wrapped in black sponge rubber.
According to an American photographer who was leaning across the fence at the time, the nationalist leader, startled, inquired what it was. When told it was a microphone designed to pick up distant sound, he laughed.
"I was taken aback," he said. "I thought it might be a weapon."
Though the technology was unfamiliar to him, Mandela nonetheless seemed quite at home in front of the cameras. After Dan Rather of CBS Evening News had completed his interview, he told one of the CBS crew that Mandela had been completely at ease.
Similar accounts were given after Tom Brokaw of NBC and Ted Koppel of ABC had taken their positions on the garden chairs.
For three days, at rallies in his honor in Cape Town and Soweto, and at a news conference in Cape Town, Mandela had spoken mainly of apartheid. In the interviews Wednesday, he spoke for the first time at any length of his 27 1/2 years in prison, of how he felt about them, what he missed and what he did to help him pass the time.
Among other things, he told Dan Rather that, after he was permitted to watch television for the first time in the mid-1980s, he liked watching educational programs best, but that for entertainment, he liked the films of Don Ameche, the American actor who portrayed Alexander Graham Bell as well as romantic heros in the 1940s.
Only once during the day did the nationalist leader leave the house, to travel to another part of Soweto to visit Elias Motsoaledi, convicted with him in the Rivonia Trial in 1964, but ailing now like several of the other men who spent more than 20 years with Mandela at the chilly fortress on Robben Island.
The drive, down Vilikazi Street past the tumbledown shopping center at the foot of the street, with its 707 Nightclub and its Silky Touch International Hair Salon, gave the black leader his fullest look yet at what has become of Soweto, the dusty township of the 1960s that has mushroomed into one of Africa's biggest black cities.
When government officials suggested that he find a safer home than the one he left in Soweto, in one of the most violence-plagued areas of the country, Mandela insisted he live as most other blacks do. At the Soweto rally that welcomed him back on Tuesday, his opening words were, "I have come home at last."