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Mbeki Replaces Mandela.

On June 16, 57-year-old Thabo Mbeki was inaugurated as South Africa's second black president, after the African National Congress (ANC) won 66.2 percent of the vote in the June 2 elections--just shy of the two-thirds majority the party was seeking. His inauguration closes a glorious chapter in South Africa's history and marks the beginning of a new one.

It would be unfair to attempt any comparison between Mbeki and his predecessor, Nelson Mandela. Now in his 80s, Mandela has a giant international stature. After 27 years in jail on Robben Island, he was released in 1990. In 1994, he led the ANC to win South Africa's first multiracial and democratic elections.

Despite having the prime years of his life snatched from him, Mandela remarkably preached reconciliation and forgiveness of the past sins of apartheid. In 1995, he established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to help South Africa come to terms with its brutal and grisly past.

After winning the election in 1994, with 62.6 percent of the vote, Mandela formed a government of national unity (GNU), in which whites and opposition party leaders could play a role. Former President Frederick de Klerk of the white National Party (NP) was named second vice president in Mandela's cabinet, and Inkatha's leader, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, became home affairs minister. Mandela's benign, grandfatherly, and conciliatory rule was embraced by the whites of South Africa and the international community at large. His stature soared.

Difficult transition

Mandela's government nevertheless encountered a difficult transition period. It inherited an enormous apartheid legacy: a racially divided society, deep poverty, and an unemployment rate of 40 percent among blacks. The NP also left in place a bloated statist interventionist machinery to advance the welfare of whites under apartheid.

The budget had been sabotaged repeatedly by chronic overspending and unproductive investment. Accordingly, the ANC overhauled the budget, radically reformed debt and cash-flow management, and reduced the deficit to 3.5 percent of GNP from the highs of 10 percent during apartheid. Thus, the ANC faced the formidable task of integrating former black homelands into the rest of South Africa on a very tight budget. Inevitably, mistakes were made.

In 1996, Mandela's GNU collapsed when the NP withdrew from his government. The same year, a scandal erupted over his ex-wife Winnie's unauthorized travels as a cabinet minister. Marital problems eventually led to a divorce and courtship of his new wife, Grace Machel--the widow of Samoro Machel, the late president of Mozambique.

Lackluster economy

On the economic front, South Africa's performance under the ANC has been lackluster. The average rate of growth over the 1994--98 period has been less than 2 percent, and this year's growth rate is expected to be a negligible 0.5 percent. At least a 6 percent rate is needed to make a dent in black unemployment, now topping 50 percent in many communities.

Part of the blame may be attributed to turbulence in the emerging markets: the Mexican peso crisis and the "Asian flu." South Africa's currency, the rand, was sent tumbling, losing 20 percent of its value in the five months following May 1998.

Furthermore, there was little fiscal room for the ANC government to maneuver. It had embraced the free-market doctrine of fiscal prudence, tight monetary policy, free trade, capital-account liberalization, privatization, flexible labor markets, and public-sector reform to assure overseas investors. These difficulties were compounded by the ANC's own heavy-handed and at times starry-eyed, self-righteous management style.

In 1994, it unveiled a blueprint to lift black poor and transform South Africa: the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP). Unfortunately, the program's goals were overambitious and its capital requirements, at 20 billion rand, were exceedingly unrealistic. In 1996, the RDP was abandoned and its office closed. In the same year, a new program called Growth, Employment, and Redistribution (GEAR) was introduced.

Based on free-market principles, GEAR called for jobs to be created by fostering a stable environment conducive to growth. But many important components were never implemented, due to opposition from the radical elements in the ANC's own camp and its coalition partners, such as the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions. A "stable environment," with security of persons and property, was becoming more and more elusive.

Soaring crime

Violent crime has soared and rages out of control in South Africa, deterring investment and acting as a brake on growth. This year, at least four foreign businessmen have been kidnapped in South Africa. In January, the head of Daewoo Motors, a Korean firm in South Africa, was gunned down in front of his Johannesburg home. In 1993, the divisional head of Daimler-Benz met a similar fate. Skilled white workers have been leaving South Africa in increasing numbers.

Johannesburg has been transformed into a crime-infested urban wasteland. Former guerrilla bands prey on banks; outside Johannesburg farmers have formed vigilante groups to protect their property. Smaller but well- organized gangs kill to steal trifling portable assets.

In 1997, there were over 24,500 murders, almost 250,000 home burglaries, and 13,000 carjackings. There has been a dramatic increase in sexual assaults on women and children, with over 52,000 reported cases of rape in 1997. Worse, the number of HIV-infected people has almost doubled in the past two years and is now close to 4 million, about 10 percent of the population. The disease has orphaned over 200,000 children.

Organized crime, with its 5 billion rand a year turnover and 1 billion rand in "earned" exports, is one of the country's largest industries. By 1997, the police claimed that 480 crime syndicates were operating in, or from, South Africa. Syndicates were common in the turbulent and often violent taxi industry.

Law-enforcement agencies have been unable to cope with the onslaught of crime: Inadequate budgetary resources, poor training of officers, corruption, and nepotism are some of the internal problems facing the police. Of the 150,000-member force, some 55,000 had, by 1998, no basic training and 33,000 had less than functional literacy.

Rampant corruption

Many allege that corruption is endemic. "President Mandela is a liar when he says we were feeding from the leftovers of apartheid when the ANC was fighting for liberation," said Bantu Holomisa, onetime coup leader of the Transkei homeland, at a June 1 rally in Johannesburg. He charged that President Mandela spent most of his time defending corrupt officials in his government.

Holomisa was kicked out of the ANC in 1996 when he made corruption charges against a gambling magnate, Sol Kerzner, who gave the equivalent of $350,000 to an ANC operative. He formed the United Democratic Movement with Roelf Meyer, a white apartheid-era official, in 1997.

President Mbeki will face daunting challenges as he tries to establish his own style and legacy. He must stanch the rising tide of crime, curb corruption, and restore investor confidence in the South African economy. A London-trained economist and former Marxist who ditched the socialist ideology in the early 1990s, Mbeki believes a shift to more pragmatic, free-market policies would set South Africa in good stead with the international community and financial markets.

Mbeki has chided Mandela, saying: "I could never, ever be seen dead in your shoes, because you always wear ugly shoes." He has promised to shift emphasis from compromise and reconciliation to transformation. Mbeki described this realignment in a 1996 speech as "the dialectical relationship between reconciliation and transformation."

One can't happen without the other, although the goals might be in conflict, he said. With his call for an "African Renaissance," he is bound to be on a collision course with other African heads of state. And this is one area where Mbeki's tenure promises to be distinct from Mandela's. Although Mandela attempted to broker peace deals between the warring factions in Zaire and Angola, he was generally detached from events in the rest of Africa and seldom denounced the tyrannical excesses of African leaders. Mbeki promises to be different.

His African Renaissance is a call to rebellion. "We must rebel against the tyrants and the dictators, those who seek to corrupt our societies and steal the wealth that belongs to the people," he declared. "They seek access to power so that they can corrupt the political order for personal gain at all costs, to the detriment of the poor masses.

"It is out of the pungent mixture of greed, dehumanizing poverty, obscene wealth, and endemic public and private corrupt practice that many of Africa's coups d'etat, civil wars, and situations of instability are born and entrenched," he charged, as reported in the Nigerian, October 1998.

Perhaps there is hope for Africa after all.n

George B.N. Ayittey, a native of Ghana, is associate professor of economics at American University and president of the Free Africa Foundation, both in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Africa Betrayed, which won the H.L. Mencken Award for "best book in 1993," and Africa in Chaos.
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Title Annotation:Thabo Mbeki, Nelson Mandela
Author:Ayittey, George B. N.
Publication:World and I
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Sep 1, 1999
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