Mandela sets sights on economic freedom

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POLITICAL freedom having been won, battle must now be joined to achieve economic freedom. But while the upliftment of the black majority was the principal goal, it was the application of free-market principles that offered the best means to get there.

That was the essence of Nelson Mandela's presidential address yesterday on yet another historic South African occasion, the formal opening of parliament in Cape Town. President Mandela's arrival at the Great Hall of the parliament building was accompanied by the now customary pomp - salutes by the army, navy and air force; a fly- past by six jets trailing the colours of the new flag; and renderings by a navy brass band of the twin national anthems, Die Stem and Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika.

Mr Mandela's 45-minute address would have left little doubt in the minds of the mainly white officers of the new National Defence Force that their loyalty was not misplaced. By the time he had finished talking the long-standing white fears on which apartheid was premised - expressed in Afrikaans as swartgevaar (black danger) and rooigevaar (red danger) - had all but evaporated.

South African businessmen declared themselves pleased. Michael Spicer, a spokesman for South Africa's biggest corporation, Anglo American, welcomed Mr Mandela's speech as 'a good start'. 'The business community won't find anything there to alarm them,' Mr Spicer said. Raymond Ackerman, a supermarket magnate and the chairman of the South African Olympic Committee, said the country was now poised for 'full, responsible membership of the world economy'.

Mr Mandela did begin by declaring that the 'focal point' of his administration would be to pursue 'the goals of freedom from want, freedom from hunger, freedom from deprivation, freedom from ignorance, freedom from suppression and freedom from fear'. The instrument to reach his economic objectives would be the ANC's Reconstruction and Development Programme.

But the methods to be employed would hardly be revolutionary. Without once using the words so dreaded by the South African private sector, 'nationalisation' and 'redistribution', Mr Mandela made it plain that the vehicle his government would use to redress the inequalities of the past would be 'sustainable growth'.

In consultation with business leaders, he said, and with the full consensus of the cabinet of the government of national unity, it had been agreed that the battle against inflation would continue; government consumption would be contained at present levels; government spending would be 'disciplined'; the balance of payments deficit would be reduced; and higher levels of taxation would be avoided.

A 2.5bn-rand ( pounds 500m) appropriation for the coming budget, to be announced on 22 June, would be derived from existing savings and the redirection of state resources, not by adding new burdens on the taxpayer. 'We shall carry out this plan within the context of a policy aimed at building a strong and growing economy which will benefit all our people,' he said.

First to benefit, he announced, would be children under six and pregnant mothers who, within 100 days, would have access to free medical care. A programme was already under way to electrify 350,000 homes this year and plans would soon be unveiled drastically to improve the quality of housing and education. The aged, the disabled and the youth would merit special attention. But all this, he insisted, rested on the basis of a successful merger between the interests of business, labour and government.

'The government will also address all other matters that relate to the creation of an attractive investment climate for both domestic and foreign investors, conscious of the fact that we have to compete with the rest of the world in terms of attracting, in particular, foreign direct investment.'

He said South Africa would apply for membership of the Commonwealth, and that trade negotiations would begin soon with the European Union and the US.