THREE YEARS AFTER President Nelson Mandela led South Africa to the end of white apartheid rule, his African National Congress is encountering internal tensions that question its belief in non-racialism.
Trade unions charge the government is not moving fast enough to close the huge wealth disparity among various racial groups. Meanwhile, black political critics say the Mandela government is like a coconut -- "black on the outside and super-white on the inside."
These frictions are likely to mount as Mr. Mandela's retirement in two years draws closer. He wants to transfer power to Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, but many ANC stalwarts want a more charismatic, radical successor.
ANC is at a crossroads. For over five decades, it has preached non-racialism. Both of ANC's constituent groups, South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, are represented in the government -- but are becoming vocally critical of the country's economic and social direction.
COSATU has called a series of strikes for August. It wants faster progress on improved working conditions. COSATU is angry about the government's willingness to compromise for a 45-hour work week -- the union demands 40 hours -- in industries where 52-hour weeks are common. Paid maternity leave is another disputed issue: the union demands six months.
Economic disparities are fanning a growing debate over ANC's stance on race. This is nothing new. In a previous watershed debate in the 1940s, Mr. Mandela was among ANC youth activists who advocated African nationalism. He ultimately turned around and became an apostle of non-racialism, which has been ANC's hallmark doctrine since 1954.
Critics say non-racialism is out of date and that South Africa ought to have black rule and a clear black identity. The struggle over who succeeds Mr. Mandela promises to develop into a seminal battle over the country's future.
Pub Date: 7/09/97