Nelson Mandela

Mandela's legacy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 December, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 December, 1997, 12:00am

Today, at an African National Congress convention in the town of Mafikeng, Nelson Mandela begins the process of handing over power as he winds down his presidency.

The next 18 months will be an anxious time for South Africans as their revered leader withdraws from the limelight. The country is facing appalling difficulties but so far it has been underpinned by Mr Mandela's spirit of optimism which has helped transcend many problems.

He has no parallel in terms of statecraft, prestige or human warmth. He has restored self-confidence in his people and rebuilt the country's shattered image. The president will be a hard act to follow but, having assembled a talented team around him, he can guide them for the first year as they learn to take the reins.

The president has brought businessmen into government to help restore the blighted economy. He has a bright young finance minister in Trevor Manuel, a radical ex-guerilla. His deputy, Thabo Mbeki, has also been groomed as his successor from the start.

Of course, many of the problems facing the country are still the result of apartheid. Wealth remains divided on racial lines and, until that is altered, crime rates will not drop significantly. Until they do, foreign investors will stay away. Sanctions are largely responsible for the 50 per cent unemployment rate and the drop in gold prices means little can be done to rectify matters.

But, by degrees, conditions are improving. An evil system has been replaced by enlightened rule and, where there was oppression, there is now the most liberal constitution in the world. Mr Mandela is the man who made it possible. His heirs must continue his work.