Mandela's successor recognized as leader in talks with Albright Secretary of state, touring continent, notes 'new chapter' in diplomacy

December 14, 1997|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

PRETORIA, South Africa -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright yesterday delivered the Clinton administration's endorsement of the politician who will this week replace President Nelson Mandela as leader of the ruling African National Party here.

Thabo Mbeki, who is currently deputy president of both the country and the party, is unopposed to replace Mandela as ANC president when the party holds its national conference, starting Tuesday.

Mandela will remain national president -- albeit in an increasingly titular role -- until the next general election, in 1999, when Mbeki is expected to take over that office too.

Albright, on a tour of Africa to introduce an intensified U.S. interest in the continent, met Mandela privately yesterday, but the official business and ensuing news conference were conducted with Mbeki, clear recognition that he is the leader with whom the United States must now deal.

Mbeki, already well-known in Washington's corridors of powers but lacking the global persona of Mandela, effectively has been running this country on a day-to-day basis for the past year.

He said yesterday that his formal accession to ANC leadership would not produce any dramatic policy changes.

The ANC conference, he said, would endorse the major policies dealing with reconciliation of the races after more than four decades of apartheid, transformation of society from white domination to black democracy, changes in the bureaucracy to reflect what is called "the new disposition," efforts to achieve high and sustained economic growth to counter unemployment and poverty, and a foreign policy that is becoming more activist after years of international isolation.

"I don't think anything will change," said Mbeki. "The change of persons, I don't think [makes] a material difference in terms of where the country is going and how people would respond to the government."

Such assurances aside, one of the major concerns here is what will happen after the awesome moral authority of Mandela and the engaging restraint of Archbishop Desmond Tutu are withdrawn from a society still troubled by racial, economic and educational divides and tensions.

But Albright was intent yesterday on stressing the positive in the U.S.-South African partnership. She emerged from an hourlong meeting with Mbeki to declare that the bilateral relationship is so good that they had been unable to find any major policy disagreements.

Cooperation stressed

"It is very important to see the similarity of our views," she said. "It is a time for cooperation and a time for us to do everything we can to help this great country to march from its apartheid past and take its rightful place in Africa and internationally."

It is in Africa, particularly, that the Clinton administration looks to South Africa, newly released from the pariah status of its apartheid era and now the most economically and militarily powerful of sub-Saharan states, for new leadership.

The Mandela government has been actively involved in seeking peaceful solutions in Angola, Sudan and, particularly, the Great Lakes region, the prime focus of Albright's African travels. Her itinerary has included stops in Rwanda and the new Democratic Republic of Congo.

Position on Congo

In Kinshasa, she stressed to President Laurent Kabila, who overthrew the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko this year, the need for developing democratic institutions, political inclusiveness and administrative transparency.

With Mbeki at her side yesterday, she said: "As a huge country with nine countries surrounding it, it is important for us to work very closely along with our African partners to see the Democratic Republic of Congo will emerge in a way that makes it an asset to the region. These are the same types of issues South Africa is interested in."

Turning to what she called "the new chapter" of U.S. diplomacy in Africa -- "built on lecturing less and listening more" -- she said the goal is to develop "real partnerships" through trade and investment rather than through aid.

"Nowhere is that truer than in our relationship with South Africa," she said.

The two brushed aside differences over policies including: Sudan, where South Africa has been more even-handed while the United States has favored the rebels trying to overthrow the government. The State Department has accused Khartoum of supporting terrorism.

Libya, where Mandela has established a rapport with Col. Muammar el Kadafi, whom the United States feels should be globally ostracized as a supporter of international terrorism.

"We didn't find many disagreements, and those that we have we talk about quietly," said Albright.

Pub Date: 12/14/97

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