JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — After two weeks of post-election euphoria and some much-needed rest, President Nelson Mandela and the government of the newly democratic South Africa go to work today.
At 2:15 p.m., after a military salute parades in the streets of Cape Town, Mandela will rise before a joint session of the all-race Parliament to deliver his first state of the nation speech. He is expected to lay out a legislative and policy agenda to transform a nation still saddled with the social and financial inequities of racist rule.
But how much Mandela will be able to achieve as he begins to govern is a considerable question. A severe reality check may be the first order of business for the Government of National Unity--the official name for the fragile multi-party coalition dominated by Mandela's African National Congress.
Put simply, economic equality will be more difficult to achieve than political equality. Three and a half centuries of colonialism and apartheid have left probably the most unequal society in the world, and little has changed since the votes were counted.
The 13% white population owns 86% of South Africa's land and more than 90% of its wealth. Nearly half of the 30 million blacks are unemployed and illiterate; 17 million live in abject poverty. Whites earn, on average, 10 times more than blacks. Whites own computers and swimming pools. Millions of blacks do not have electricity or running water.
But severe fiscal limits may undermine Mandela's campaign promises to improve social programs for the poor. Unless he violates another campaign pledge--not to frighten foreign investors or the business community by increased taxes and heavy borrowing--he will be hard-pressed to meet his commitments.
"The problem is Mr. Mandela has promised more than the new government can deliver," said Sampie Terreblanche, an economist at the University of Stellenbosch near Cape Town.
Mandela, for example, repeatedly pledged that his first priority in office would be to implement the ANC platform known as the Reconstruction and Development Plan.
Trumpeted at nearly every campaign stop, it promised voters that the ANC will build 1 million homes, create 2.5 million jobs through public works programs, provide quality schools and supply free health care for children, among other pledges.
The problem was the plan never said how, or how much it would cost.
When pressed, ANC officials estimated the cost at $11.5 billion over five years, but insisted that the money could come from savings in the government's $36-billion annual budget.
Last week, an ANC think tank, the National Institute for Economic Policy, went public with their own estimate: The redevelopment plan would cost at least $23 billion, and there is a prospect of precious few savings in the budget.
Although the government's first budget will not be presented until June 22, Terreblanche said the higher estimate may be optimistic.
"It won't be easy to get an apartheid dividend," he said. "They will have to raise taxes."
Financial markets, which reached a similar conclusion, have reacted in near panic to the sudden specter of a soak-the-rich administration awash in red ink.
The Johannesburg Stock Exchange dropped sharply. And the South African rand fell to record lows against almost every other currency.
The Star, an English-language paper here, complained of a credibility gap. Since the new government has yet to do anything, the charge may be premature. But it suggests that Mandela's honeymoon will have some limits.
"Politicians are notorious for flirting with tough truths, especially at election time," the Star said. "But to bandy about discrepancies as huge as this is to court disaster."
Another disaster looms in the re-incorporation of the country's 10 former all-black homelands.
Under the new constitution, all were formally reabsorbed into South Africa on Election Day. It ended a cruel system created under apartheid in which millions of blacks were forced from their homes and farms and dumped on land that was invariably desolate, dry and distant.
Six homelands were ostensibly self-governing, but with massive subsidies from Pretoria. The other four were nominally independent, but equally dependent on the white rulers who had formulated the fiction. The only constant was appalling rural poverty for millions of blacks and widespread corruption by their leaders.
As a result, John Kane-Berman, director of the Johannesburg-based South African Institute of Race Relations, argues that the re-incorporation of the former homelands, and their 14 million residents, may be as problematic as the unification of East and West Germay after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
"Our experience will be much the same, or worse, than in Germany," he said. "We assume we can reincorporate on the cheap. It's going to cost a bloody fortune.