Mandela offers hope to poor, reassurance to wealthy of S. Africa

May 25, 1994|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- Setting the tone for his presidency yesterday, Nelson Mandela tried to give hope to South Africa's poor and reassurance to its rich.

In a 45-minute speech to the initial joint session of the country's first democratically elected Parliament, he laid out the broad goals of the multiparty "Government of National Unity" that he leads. Those goals follow closely the ideas in the platform of the African National Congress, known as the Reconstruction and Development Program.

The program is aimed at providing the impoverished majority black population of South Africa with the same opportunities afforded the country's small minority of whites during the four decades of apartheid. It focuses on building additional housing, expanding electrification, providing water, health service and compulsory, free education.

A $750 million plan

He committed the government to spending about $750 million on that program in the coming fiscal year, a figure set to rise to more than $3 billion in the last year of the five-year life of this government, for a total of over $11 billion.

To get it off the ground, Mr. Mandela borrowed the notion of the "first 100 days" from Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal package of legislation that helped bring the United States out of the Depression. He said that in the next three months, programs he will personally supervise will guarantee free health care to pregnant mothers and children under the age of 6 and will implement a nutritional feeding scheme for primary schools.

He said that plans are currently under way to electrify 350,000 homes during the current fiscal year, a start on his campaign promise to bring electricity to 2.5 million homes in the next five years. Two-thirds of South Africa's 40 million people live without electricity.

But all who had hoped or feared that, once he got into office, Mr. Mandela would turn into the Communist of the apartheid government's propaganda were either disappointed or relieved yesterday. The speech continued the theme of reconciliation that he has sounded since his release from prison four years ago and has emphasized since he got 62 percent of the vote last month. This time, he did not reach over racial, cultural and political divides alone, but also over economic ones as he sought to reassure the business community, middle-class taxpayers and overseas investors.

He promised to achieve his reconstruction goals while also lowering the country's budget deficit. And, though he did not say, "No new taxes," he did say, "We are agreed that a permanently higher general level of taxation is to be avoided."

Mr. Mandela talked of a stable monetary policy, of keeping inflation down, encouraging domestic savings to fund investment and opening trade negotiations with a variety of partners.

Mr. Mandela's talk contained something for just about everyone, with the details to follow next month when the budget is unveiled.

Finance Minister Derek Keyes,who retained the portfolio he held in the previous National Party Cabinet, said at a news briefing that the budget will be able to meet Mr. Mandela's promises.

"We have a carefully planned five-year program," Mr. Keyes said.

"We are not talking about new revenues, but about re-directing the current level of spending," he said, pointing out that the $750 million figure represents 3 percent of the total budget.

Mr. Mandela's theme of reconciliation continued as he committed himself to an amnesty plan for those involved in political violence.

No retribution

"The government will not delay unduly with regard to attending to the vexed and unresolved issue of an amnesty for criminal activities carried out in furtherance of political objectives," he said of the hope to eliminate a constant hunt for those responsible for the brutalities of apartheid.

"We will attend to this matter in a balanced and dignified way." he said. "The nation must come to terms with its past in a spirit of openness and forgiveness and proceed to build the future on the basis of repairing and healing.

"The burden of the past lies heavily on all of us, including those responsible for inflicting injury and those who suffered. . . . We will prepare legislation which will seek to free the wrongdoers from fear of retribution and blackmail while acknowledging the injury of those who have been harmed so that the individual wrongs, injuries, fears and hopes affecting individuals are identified and attended to."

He spoke of other policies, mentioning alternatives to incarceration for youthful offenders, backing women's rights, and assuring the police and armed forces of the government's faith in them.

A change in attitude

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