Leading Article: South Africa's hard man has a hard task

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The Independent Culture
THABO MBEKI is a hard man. Which is what South Africa needs after five years of rule by the closest to a secular saint the modern world has to offer. Nelson Mandela has been a great healer, and his achievement was to prevent majority rule turning into civil war. But South Africa has a terrible problem of crime and violence, which affects not just rich whites but poor blacks too, and which demands strong leadership.

Mr Mbeki cannot do the jiving or the Gandhian dignity, but he can do strong leadership. The ANC has copied a few things - in rather different circumstances - from New Labour, including the slogan "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime". Now Mr Mbeki has to deliver, with equal emphasis on both halves of the formula. That means a crackdown on thugs and thieves. It also means driving forward on the expensive social policies of education, housing and basic services. But that drive must be balanced by a strong commitment to open and competitive markets if foreign investors are not to be scared off.

He is also worryingly intolerant of debate in the media. In this light, his policy of political inclusion - which in other circumstances would be laudable - does flicker with unfortunate premonitions of a one-party state. Bringing in Inkatha to the ANC fold, and keeping Winnie Mandela in the government, are both sensible. But Mr Mbeki's authoritarian leanings need to be kept in check if South Africa's young democracy is to thrive. Yesterday's low-key but high- turnout and non-violent elections provide grounds for hope, and the Democratic Party holds out the possibility of becoming an effective non-racial, non-tribal opposition.

The immediate test for Mr Mbeki is to control the crime wave; the ultimate test is to ensure that South Africa becomes a genuine multiracial and multi-tribal democracy.