The Rev. Jesse Jackson and his 17-member entourage tore across SouthAfrica on a fact-finding mission for five days last week, delightedly mugging for the cameras, pressing flesh in the townships, embracing black liberation heroes and making all the newspapers.
But Thursday, after spending the days since Sunday in the publicity shadow cast by black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela's return from 27 years in prison, Jackson cut short his stay in South Africa and flew on to Namibia, leaving some angry anti-apartheid activists in his wake.
Things began to go awry for the American civil rights leader and former presidential candidate within minutes of Mandela's release Sunday. As the 71-year-old prisoner walked free, about 50,000 people were gathering on parade grounds in downtown Cape Town to welcome their leader.
As the spectators, crushed together and kept waiting hours in a hot sun, grew increasingly angry with the delay, Jackson's chauffeur-driven sedan forged into the crowd and attempted to deposit him in front of the stage.
Jackson emerged from the car, waved to the crowd and looked up at the City Hall portico where Mandela was to speak. Seeing no way to climb the platform, Jackson got back into the car. But the car was penned in by the surging crowd, many of whom thought it had been carrying Mandela.
Jackson got out again and this time found himself being lifted above the masses and pulled, his double-breasted suit jacket hanging open, up to the platform. He escaped into the building and was never asked to speak.
Later Sunday, Jackson failed to show up for a reception sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in his honor, and the next day he canceled planned rallies in Durban and Port Elizabeth, deciding instead to fly to Johannesburg, saying that he had to meet with Mandela.
Mkhuseli Jack, an anti-apartheid leader in Port Elizabeth, said he and other rally organizers were "a little angry and very disappointed."
"Ordinary people were looking forward to hearing a man who has stood for human rights, and the organizations had invested a lot of time in planning for this visit," Jack said.
South Africa had granted Jackson, a strong critic of Pretoria's white minority-led government, a visa in January. But when he delayed his journey, government sources said they worried that he was hoping to share the limelight with Mandela, whose release was widely expected in mid-February.
"In retrospect, it might have been better if he had come at a more opportune time," Foreign Minister Roelof "Pik" Botha said a few days before Mandela's release. "I must be honest. I would have liked to have him here in January."
The reason, Botha said then, was that "it's not always easy to handle all the fanfare of some of our American friends. But I understand it. If it's got to be done, let it then be done. He can come and enjoy the aftermath, but certainly not claim credit for having been a player on the field."
On Thursday, two days after his return to Johannesburg, Jackson got an audience with Mandela in the freed leader's home in Soweto. Jackson and his family emerged from the hourlong meeting to face dozens of reporters, most of whom had been waiting outside for interviews with Mandela.
Jackson said he wished the late Martin Luther King Jr. could have been there.
"It is clear now that Mr. Mandela represents more people in the country than the state president and represents more people in the world with more credibility than does the national government," Jackson said.
"The misnomer around the world is that Mandela is free," Jackson added. "He is out of jail but he's not free. He is not free to live where he wants, not free to vote and not free to run for office."
As Jackson flew out of the country, the evening Star newspaper ran a photograph of a smiling Jackson and his wife alongside Nelson and Winnie Mandela.
"He got what he wanted by coming at this time," one diplomat said. "He did bask to a certain extent in the Mandela limelight, and the private film crew he brought with him surely got what they needed."