Mandela pronounces South Africa healthy

August 19, 1994|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Nelson Mandela gave his new government a 100-day checkup yesterday and pronounced it basically healthy, even if subject to a few growing pains.

As his three-month evaluation approached, many thought he had made a mistake by promising it. Though there has been much talk and many meetings, no new houses have been built, few existing ones have gotten electricity or other services, and township roads remain unpaved. Indeed, except for a lasting feeling of goodwill from the April 27 vote, there seems to be little difference between the new South Africa and the old.

But, as Mr. Mandela pointed out, the fact that those feelings of goodwill are lasting is in itself an impressive achievement in a country with such a history of divisiveness.

"We should congratulate all South Africans for the reconciliatory spirit with which they have handled the transition and for their patience as the new government has found its feet," he told Parliament in a nationally televised speech.

Polls indicate that Mr. Mandela's impression of the electorate is correct. One survey indicated that large majorities of blacks and whites felt that relations among the races are better and were optimistic about the future.

Though many predicted that Mr. Mandela's supporters, overwhelmingly poor and black, would demand that unrealistic expectations be met, there has been little evidence that they have.

Mr. Mandela listed progress on a number of goals. Free medical care has been made available for pregnant women and for children under age 6, in some cases swamping hospitals, though, he pointed out, "minor illnesses that would have later presented complications are being dealt with at the primary stage."

A plan to feed poor children in schools should be partially implemented when the new school year begins in January. Plans for further electrification and other utility upgrading in black townships are under way.

Mr. Mandela pointed out two obstacles such plans face:

* The slow pace of reforming local governments -- elections are probably a year away -- and getting the new provincial governments operational. He said the major reconstruction and development plans have to be implemented at this level.

* Bureaucratic inertia, faced by most new governments.

South Africa's interim constitution guaranteed that all civil servants kept their jobs, meaning that Mr. Mandela's programs are supposed to be carried out by the same people who used to administer apartheid.

While praising "their loyalty to the new government and their preparedness to adapt to new conditions," Mr. Mandela outlined measures designed to make the old bureaucracy more responsive to its new constituency.

He also mentioned the rising crime rate and said that Cabinet members are taking "urgent, visible and effective measures to eradicate these problems."

He also reaffirmed his commitment to a so-called truth commission to uncover the abuses of the apartheid era.

"In a nutshell, what this issue raises is how we deal with a past that contained gross violations of human rights -- a past that threatens to live with us like a festering sore," he said.

"We are confident that a balanced approach, based on consultation with all our people and drawing on the positive experiences of other countries, will help resolve the matter in a manner that benefits the country as a whole."

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