Mandela's Heir Apparent Offers Reassurance: Mbeki Visits to List Accomplishments, Challenges

Article excerpt

"South Africa: The Next Generation" was on display in Washington this week as President Nelson Mandela's chosen successor, Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, paraded before official dignitaries, prospective investors and the media to reassure them that there will indeed be life after Mr. Mandela.

The message he delivered was one of considerable accomplishment in just two years but a mountain of challenges, mostly economic, ahead.

At the White House Old Executive Office Building on Tuesday, the heir apparent was subdued and low-key in getting the message out as he and Vice President Al Gore signed four agreements in their capacity as co-chairmen of a binational commission.

The accords are intended to show that the United States really cares about and will cooperate with the new South Africa, which has been under black majority rule for more than two years.

The agreements dealt with cooperation in the fields of transportation, energy, education and investment guarantees.

But at a Freedom Forum news conference yesterday, Mr. Mbeki was lively and forceful as he covered national and international issues, displaying the depth of experience he acquired as principal spokesman abroad for the armed struggle against apartheid being waged by the African National Congress.

During those years, the now-ruling ANC waged its fight from bases outside South Africa and it was Mr. Mbeki's job to cement support abroad.

Mr. Mbeki rattled off a list of accomplishments achieved by the Mandela government since it took power in mid-1994. Among them:

* Adoption of a new constitution, with guarantees for all minorities.

* Carrying out of peaceful local elections in violence-prone KwaZulu-Natal.

* Launching a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to ferret out past political crimes in the hope that expiation will lead to reconciliation even in the absence of the dispensing of justice or retribution.

* Shifting of day-to-day work by the nation's police from chasing insurgents to chasing criminals.

Collectively, all of these accomplishments underscore the commitment of South Africans to preserving national unity.

"In the past two years that the ANC and the white-minority National Party have shared power, they have managed to preserve national unity," an observer of South Africa said this week.

But these accomplishments, achieved by a society that moved to the brink of a race war, do not lessen the enormous economic challenges faced by the new leadership.

"The greatest challenge of all that South Africa faces is the economy as the country seeks to recover from stagnation and to achieve a high rate of growth," Mr. Mbeki said. It is an integral part of his U.S. visit to attract investments to his country.

On the economic front, the ANC has jettisoned the rhetoric of socialism that once sent shudders through the intrnational business community and has strongly embraced free enterprise, privatization and the creation of an attractive climate for foreign investment. No one has been a greater advocate for such themes than Mr. Mbeki. But the economic problems created by 46 years of race-based neglect remain huge. In fact, South Africa operates two economies side by side.

A First World economy features high finance, stock markets and modern industries underpinned by a solid infrastructure and treasure house of precious minerals such as gold, diamonds and other rare metals. …