After the honeymoon

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 June, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 June, 1999, 12:00am

SOUTH AFRICA showed this week that, despite its many other problems, it has matured into a stable democracy that could lead the way in the continent's much-talked about renaissance.

The election drew an 85 per cent turnout, and at the last count more than 65 per cent of voters backed the African National Congress. The overwhelming support for the ruling party is a signal that, despite the glaring inequalities which still exist in this country, its people believe that the incoming president, Thabo Mbeki, will deliver what Nelson Mandela's government promised, but was ultimately unable to fulfil.

Mr Mandela is the icon of victory over apartheid and the liberation of a people, the man who emerged saint-like from prison and who had celebrities jostling to be seen with him. His mere presence won South Africa much of the goodwill it now enjoys. But the party of the last five years is over.

The ever-gracious Mr Mandela cast his vote in last week's election and promptly disappeared from the scene, saying that he was going on an extended holiday to an undisclosed destination. It would not have been his style to steal his successor's thunder.

Mr Mbeki's time has come, and he is well qualified to exploit the skills and resources of this dynamic and potentially wealthy country. An Oxford-graduated economist, the new president has assured investors that he will follow policies adopted by the previous government, that he will work more aggressively towards addressing the country's economic imbalances, and that he will not tamper with the constitution - which he could legally do with the two-thirds majority the ANC is likely to have won in last week's polls.

At 56, Mr Mbeki has time on his side. He also has most South Africans - of all races - and the world at large behind him. But goodwill alone does not build a nation. Creating jobs for one-third of the population who are unemployed and tackling a horrendous crime problem are two of his most pressing challenges.

Since the last election in 1994, South Africa has not created any new jobs; indeed, it has lost 500,000. Though crime rates should fall when more people are employed, foreign investors are reluctant to invest amid the current high level of violence.

South Africa's transition to a stable democracy has been near-miraculous. Now Mr Mbeki is going to be called upon to perform a dual feat - to lure investors to the country while bringing crime under control.