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Cowboys of the Americas (The Disney Channel, 9-10 p.m.): The historical image of the cowboy is instructively broadened in this ambitious documentary. We encounter multicultural, geographically widespread versions of the famous figure, ones that go right back to the time Columbus introduced horses to the New World in 1494.

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To mark the 500th anniversary of that event, the program uses on-location footage all over the Americas to examine the vaqueros of Mexico, the Californios of Hawaii, the cowboys of Canada, the Argentinian gauchos, and other variations. The host is singer-songwriter Michael Martin Murphey, known for his cowboy music.

Frontline (PBS, 9-10 p.m.): As South Africa prepared for its first nonracial elections, which started today and end Thursday, the program traveled throughout the country to retrace the life of the man expected to be elected president: Nelson Mandela. His five-decade-long ascent to power as head of the African National Congress is certainly among the epic stories of modern history. By examining his roots, the production hopes to anticipate how he may deal with the huge problems confronting the strife-torn land.

The latter part of the program examines the almost equally amazing saga of Mandela's estranged wife, Winnie, who has regained political influence after being convicted of kidnapping in connection with the 1988 murder of a youth. * WEDNESDAY

House of Representatives (C-Span, 10 a.m. EDT to conclusion): Regular coverage.

Live From Lincoln Center (PBS, 8-10 p.m.): Jessye Norman, where were you when we needed you - when those history lessons began to drag in school? In this unusual edition, to be aired from Avery Fisher Hall, the great opera and concert star offers her own take on the important women in history by singing and talking about them. She performs works by Saint-Saens, Purcell, Richard Strauss, Liszt, Barber, and others, and in between offers comments.

Please check local listings for these programs.

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