South Africa struggles in shift to democracy

THE BALTIMORE SUN

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- Amid tumult in Parliament and street protests in major cities, South Africa is trying to replace the words and ways of liberation struggle with the calmer ways of democracy.

For the leaders of the country, from President Nelson Mandela down, the new era requires them to replace rhetoric with detailed programs -- for the construction of desperately needed housing and the creation of jobs for the millions of unemployed in the black townships. For the general population, needed changes include an end to public violence.

In this, the first full week of debate, members of Parliament have warned that if they fail to improve basic services in the country, they risk disillusioning large parts of the population with Mr. Mandela's multiracial government.

"This is the year of delivery," said Tony Leon, leader of the mainly white, liberal Democratic Party. "It's the year when we have to positively impact the lives of ordinary South Africans."

There are many signs of impatience:

* In Cape Town, thousands of black students have protested threats by whites against blacks being bused to a school in a white working-class community.

* In Johannesburg, the headlines have been dominated by news of homeless people of mixed race taking over vacant housing in a neighborhood long restricted to Indians.

* In Parliament, the leader of the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, has led a walkout by members of his party to protest the still-unsettled role of the Zulu monarchy in South Africa.

Thabo Mbeki, considered No. 2 to Mr. Mandela in the government, acknowledged that Parliament had not yet done much to improve conditions for the public, a failure he blamed on the inexperience of Mr. Mandela's African National Congress.

"You have to realize that when we came into office, what we had in terms of policy was more a vision than a plan," he said. "Everybody felt a sense of frustration at our inability to move as quickly as we wanted to move."

In briefings for reporters, other members of the Cabinet confirmed the sense of frustration -- and of confusion. Jay Naidoo, minister in charge of the government's basic housing program, could not say how many houses had been built under the program. Sibusiso Bengu, minister of education, said his ministry lacked statistics about the number of children in public school.

Any solution to the housing problems will come -- if at all -- from private business, Mr. Naidoo said. The government's target is 1 million new houses in five years, but businessmen are unwillingly to risk involvement until there is order in the townships.

To obtain order, Mr. Naidoo said, the government must find a way to end citizens' boycott of payments of rent, taxes and other charges, boycotts begun by the ANC a decade ago to make the townships ungovernable for the the country's then all-white rulers. If there is any chance of a boycott of mortgage payments, banks will not lend money for new housing.

Some problems are the result of administrative error and blatant racism, as was the case with black students bused to Ruyterwacht, a white working-class community. Thousands of students from black townships have been sent to the school even though it had no teachers.

After the students roamed unsupervised for several days, residents began a public protest. A series of black-white confrontations was the result, which brought thousands of other students into downtown Cape Town for demonstrations that veered into vandalism.

But Mr. Bengu could only appeal for time, while he redistributes government aid to traditionally white and black districts. The white districts still receive three times more money per pupil than those serving blacks, and Mr. Bengu said that another five years will be needed before reforms take effect.

Mr. Mandela has demanded order and calm, and has criticized those promoting violence. "I speak of those who engage in such totally unacceptable practices as the murder of police officers, the taking of hostages, riots, looting, the forcible occupation of public buildings, blocking of public highways, vandalization of public and private property and so on," he told the opening session of Parliament, listing some tactics that his ANC endorsed in its fight against apartheid.

"Some of those who have initiated and participated in such activities have misread freedom to mean license," Mr. Mandela said. "Let me make it abundantly clear that the small minority in our midst which wears the mask of anarchy will meet its match in the government we lead."

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