Leading Article: Mandela has no cause for dismay

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The Independent Online
NEXT WEEK President Nelson Mandela will address South Africa's parliament on the state of the nation after its first 100 days of democratic, multiracial government. On the basis of day-to- day news, he might seem to have little to celebrate.

In the past few weeks there has been a wave of industrial unrest, with more than 100,000 workers on strike. Mr Mandela's key Treasury Minister, Derek Keys, has resigned, to be replaced by a steady but uninspiring banker, Christo Liebenberg. Crime figures have soared from an already alarmingly high level, and the war between Inkatha and the African National Congress in Natal province continues, albeit at a lower level than before the April election. Mr Mandela's critics believe the June budget gave too high a priority to reassuring investors and insufficient attention to fulfilling black aspirations to decent housing.

Worrying though all these problems are, they are minor compared with the catastrophes once predicted. There has been no civil war pitting an unholy alliance of far- right whites and Inkatha against the ANC; no mass emigration of whites; no collapse of business confidence, and no sudden flight of capital. South Africa has become a normal country, in which anxieties about the economy predominate, rather than one whose existence seemed at risk.

Frustrating though it must be for ANC supporters, President Mandela has been wise to attach the greatest importance to neutralising the far right and to reassuring investors and businessmen. Without a solid political base, an improved social infrastructure would be shakily founded. There was never any hope of rapidly housing a politically significant number of the destitute, leaving aside the price that sometimes has to be paid for progress. In a shantytown outside Durban, squatters already face eviction so the land can be redeveloped, thus reviving memories of one of the most hated aspects of apartheid policy.

It is not surprising that the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) should flex its muscles. Long one of the ANC's main allies, it needs to establish a new relationship with old friends now in government, some from its own ranks - at least 50 senior Cosatu officials left to serve in federal and provincial government.

With ministers and MPs being awarded higher salaries, the frustration of trade union members was always likely to bubble over. The startling increase in violent crime is more puzzling. It may represent the kind of social fracturing that follows successful revolutions, amply demonstrated in post-Communist Russia, and with a similar demoralisation of the police.

In the longer term, there is the danger of a rift between those who believe in adhering to the present cautious line, in which the dictates of the free market, the International Monetary Fund and foreign investors predominate, and those who believe more radical policies should be adopted to redress the gross inequalities left by apartheid. That debate could become heated if the inevitable failure to fulfil expectations turns to popular anger. To reduce that danger, the West must fulfil its promises of help and refuse to be dismayed by democratic South Africa's inevitable transitional difficulties.