By MICHAEL O. ALLEN, Daily News Staff Writer | Sunday, April 24, 1994

SOWETO—With rousing gusto, Nelson Mandela and some 60,000 frenzied supporters celebrated the approaching end of a bitter journey yesterday here in the place where their freedom quest began nearly 20 years ago.

They did the toyi-toyi, the dance of celebration. They sang songs, waved placards, set off fireworks and hoisted a coffin bearing the words, “Farewell Apartheid.”

And when the likely new leader of South Africa walked into the soccer stadium for one of his final campaign speeches and predicted a crushing victory in this week’s election, they chanted his name and cried tears of joy.

“The goal of our struggle is in sight!” Mandela said, after a tumultuous tour of the stadium. “The result of the struggles and sacrifices of our people are about to be realized!”

While predicting victory on this next-to-last day of campaigning for all the candidates in the country’s first all-race election, the African National Congress leader also appealed for national unity.

“We are one country, we are one people. I want you to take that message away with you. We will use our diversity as our strength.”

Meanwhile, winding down his campaign in Cape Town, National Party leader F. W. de Klerk—the likely second-place finisher—also pledged to work for national unity.

“I have seen the unemployment, I have seen the dismal conditions under which so many South Africans live, and I pledge to you that the new National Party can build a new South Africa.”

Despite the two leaders’ pleas for unity, two ANC workers were killed in the capital of KwaZulu as they attempted to distribute campaign pamphlets in territory controlled by the Inkatha Freedom Party.

Because of a law here banning opinion polls within three weeks of the election, the final weekend of the campaign was conducted without benefit of any last-minute last pulse-taking showing which way the wind blows.

The last published polls the ANC with a comfortable but dwindling lead over the National Party, which had picked up support from the nation’s mixed-race and Indian populations.

If that trend holds true, the ANC may not get the 66% majority required to have firm control of the government—especially since the last-minute entry of Inkatha’s Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s hurts the ANC too.

Mandela and Buthelezi are scheduled to give separate speeches today in Durban, in a final bid for votes in the KwaZulu region.

In the wake of his last-minute to participate in the election, Buthelezi has confounded matters again by saying that he will not accept a role in the post-election government of national unity.

“Our struggle for your freedom has just begun,” he told supporters in a rural township, raising anew the specter of further bloodshed related to ANC-Inkatha tensions.