ANC calls for new democracy deal

Nelson Mandela's African National Congress declared it was "more united than ever" after its five-day national conference which backed the government's conservative economic policies and called for a new constitution enshrining "ordinary democrat ic majority rule".

The meeting urged the government to take quick measures to improve living standards for the black majority and to restructure the Afrikaner-dominated civil service so that it could push through reforms quickly. "We reaffirm the liberation of black peoplein general and the Africans in particular as the main content of our national democratic revolution," a conference resolution said.

The call for the replacement of the interim constitution, which expires in five years, would be tempered, said Justice Minister Dullah Omar, by the ANC's acceptance that "we will have to work within the provisions of the constitutional principles" adopt e d at the World Trade Centre negotiations last year. "Until we transform state machinery as a whole into a loyal instrument of democracy, transfer of power to the people will not be complete."

The ANC's 49th congress, held at the University of the Orange Free State in Bloemfontein, a bastion of white conservatism, was marked by support for economic policies, such as budget cutbacks and privatisation, that once would have been an anathema to ANC allies in the Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). Proceeds from sales of state assets should go to reducing the government debt, rather than to fund current expenditure, the meeting decided.

The conference was also critical of the party's performance in leading the government of national unity seven months after sweeping the country's first all-race elections in April.

While the conference had confounded "prophets of doom" who predicted that delegates would criticise party leaders for forgetting their constituents, President Mandela said that the cabinet should remember the saying that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely".

"We need fresh blood," Mr Mandela said after elections to the ANC's National Executive Committee (NEC). "One problem is that some people have an instinctive resistance to this. Some of us feel threatened by the prospect of being challenged. We cannot survive if we do not change. Some comrades do not welcome opposition and tend to sideline and even slander comrades with an independent view," Mr Mandela said.

An attempt by Mr Mandela to set up a committee to draw up a recommended list of NEC candidates, designed party officials said to ensure proper gender, regional and racial representation, was stillborn amid opposition among the 3,000 party delegates.

Four of the party's top officials, including Mr Mandela, the deputy president, Thabo Mbeki, and Cyril Ramaphosa, the secretary general, won their election unopposed, There were few surprises in the elections for the 60-member NEC. Mr Mandela's estranged wife, Winnie, the Women's League president and Arts, Culture, Science and Technology Deputy Minister, came in fifth with 1,802 votes. Mrs Mandela was linked to a new scandal at the weekend, as press reports alleged her involvement in a scheme to buy diamonds from President Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola. Nevertheless, delegates broke into frenzied applause as Mrs Mandela and the president embraced.

Mr Mandela also criticised the party for mismanagement of funds and said it undermined its attacks on the corruption of the former white minority rulers.Some estimates put the ANC's party debt at £13m.