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Clintons visit Mandela prison cell

In her many travels around the world as first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton has been toasted by plenty of foreign leaders who proudly showed her their palaces, their historic landmarks, their national treasures.

Nelson Mandela showed her his prison cell.

But then again, there may be no more historic landmark in South Africa these days than Spartan, 6-by-9-foot Cell No. 5 in this island prison six miles off the Cape of Good Hope. And there is certainly no more revered national treasure than Mandela himself, the prisoner-turned-president who struggled for the liberation of South Africa's black majority.

Less than three months after the infamous Robben Island facility was reopened as a museum celebrating the fight against apartheid, Mandela returned Thursday to lead Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, through its halls and past the bars that once separated him from the outside world.

With an easy smile and no trace of bitterness, Mandela played the genial guide. Here he had a garden. There was the court where prisoners played basketball. This was the small cabinet where he kept his few belongings.

"When we first arrived, they put me in this one," he said, gesturing to a wooden door where a cell has now been made into an office. "Then one day we came back, and they had put me in the very last cell. We didn't know why they did that."

It soon became clear, though. In the first cell, Mandela recalled, "I acted virtually as a spokesman for the prisoners." Prison officials hoped that by moving him they would isolate him. But it didn't work, he said, because any time they came to talk to the inmates, "every prisoner here said, "Now you go down to our spokesman.' "

Clinton's visit off the southern tip of the continent was perhaps the most emotional touchstone so far during her two-week journey through Africa. At her every stop over the last four days, from a housing project started by shantytown women to a monument to the Soweto uprising, Clinton has sought to highlight Africa's progress toward democracy and offer encouragement from the United States.

"We have an old saying in America that idle hands are the devil's work," she said in a speech Thursday at the University of Cape Town. "From what I have seen in just a few short days, the devil will have no help here. South Africa is a country that is too busy to hate."

In her address, modeled after one delivered at the same school by Robert Kennedy 31 years ago, Clinton announced a commitment of $16-million more in U.S. aid for efforts to eradicate polio from Africa by 2000.