Leading article: A touch of magic where it's needed

TONY BLAIR today joins the hundreds of world leaders who have jetted into Pretoria to get a bit of what the South Africans call the madiba magic ("father" magic), a part of that peculiar charisma bestowed on all who meet him by President Nelson Mandela. Blair, more than most, needs it. He will return this weekend to a Westminster where his reputation for touch has been badly dented by scandal, cabinet squabbles and European rifts.

It would none the less be wrong to dismiss his trip as a bit of glitter- seeking. Anglo-South-African relations remain critical for both sides, for Britain for reasons of exports and for South Africa for reasons of inward investment. Both of these need more than a handshake and some meaningless rhetoric at the moment. Despite all the problems, Mandela's personality, his "goodness," has kept him above the international setbacks, and the disappointments, of post-apartheid Africa.

But the concerns are there and are growing. Business confidence has been corroded by internal political divisions within the government and by suspicions that Mandela's expected successor, Thabo Mbeki, and a substantial body of the African National Congress leadership would like to row back from the free market reforms introduced by Mandela. Optimism has also been shaken by the level of violence experienced in the urban centres.

Mandela has recently complained that white commitment has been too little and too shallow. And he has a point. South Africa of all countries needs and deserves investment for the long haul from the outside and co-operative belief on the inside. But in return the Pretoria government has to give more reassurance than it has so far that Mandela's retirement later this year will not see a return to a more restrictive economic policy.

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