Mandela turns fire on wave of black dissent

President Nelson Mandela yesterday declared war on crime and a wave of disruptive protests launched by black South Africans disgruntled by the slow pace of change, two of the biggest challenges faced by his nine-month- old government as it grapples with the realities of power.

"The battle against the forces of anarchy and chaos has been joined," Mr Mandela said in a keynote address that opened the 1995 session of the first all-race assembly elected in April.

The irony of Mr Mandela's predicament was not lost on the benches of the National Party, many of whose parliamentarians were in the former apartheid regime. They laughed, cheered and clapped at passages in an hour-long speech that showed the 76-year-old leader clearly concerned by recent riots in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town as well as wildcat strikes by black policemen and other civil servants.

"Some have misread freedom to mean licence ... popular participation to mean the ability to impose chaos," he said, speaking slowly and pausing more than a dozen times to wipe his eyes, which were damaged doing hard labour in the quarry on Robben Island. "The small minority in our midst which wears the mask of anarchy will meet its match in the government we lead."

Criminals, he warned, would get short shrift. The government needed to address concern "that people begin to feel that criminals are being favoured while the interests of society are being ignored. The situation cannot be tolerated in which our country continues to be engulfed by a crime wave."

Mr Mandela also criticised people who had not abandoned some of the key weapons of his African National Congress in the defeat of apartheid: the refusal of township dwellers to pay bills for rent, water or electricity.

"I would like to address this matter bluntly. The government literally does not have the money to meet the demands that are being advanced. Mass action of any kind will not create resources that the government does not have. All of us must rid ourselves of the wrong notion that the government has a big bag full of money. It is important that we rid ourselves of the culture of entitlement ... The process of restructuring the budget is not easy."

The budget, to be prepared by next month, will be the first one fully drafted by the ANC-led government of national unity. Despite his warnings, Mr Mandela vowed that as much as possible would be spent bettering the condition of the long-oppressed black community.

"There are signs that our economy is beginning to pick up," he said, pledging to cultivate growth and foreign investment while keeping up his government's remarkable inflation-beating commitment to fiscal discipline.

Another key issue will be nationwide local elections in October. Mr Mandela called for an immediate end to an upsurge of political killings in KwaZulu/Natal, where the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party is resisting the elections.

Inkatha perceives them as a challenge to a system of traditional tribal chiefs and the power of their leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the Home Affairs Minister. "National and provincial governments ... will not hesitate to use all legitimate force at their disposal to ensure that nobody stands in the way of the people to express their will freely," Mr Mandela said. The comments only elicited a half-smile from Mr Buthelezi.

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