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Mandela Outlines His Vision for South Africa : Democracy: President sets healing tone in State of Nation speech. He balances blacks' needs, whites' fears.

May 25, 1994|BOB DROGIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — On a sunny day of pomp and pageantry, President Nelson Mandela outlined a soaring vision for the new South Africa on Tuesday in his first State of the Nation speech, a carefully crafted address that tried to balance the needs of poor blacks with the fears of rich whites.

The nationally televised speech before a joint session of the multiracial National Assembly and Senate in the Parliament building in Cape Town set a healing tone and a moderate course for the new democracy as it struggles to shed the social and economic inequities of apartheid.

The goal, Mandela repeatedly vowed, is a "people-centered society." The government's aims are nothing less than "freedom from want, freedom from hunger, freedom from deprivation, freedom from ignorance, freedom from suppression and freedom from fear."

"Let us all get down to work," he said, to a standing ovation from the 490 legislators.

He pleaded for reconciliation and an end to racism. And in perhaps the most moving section, he read a poem linking the growth of an African child to the demand for freedom. The author was Ingrid Jonker, who committed suicide in 1965 after breaking with her father, a conservative Afrikaner legislator, over the injustice and indignity of apartheid.

"To her and others like her, we owe a commitment to the poor, the oppressed, the wretched and the despised," Mandela said.

Despite the inspiring rhetoric, Mandela's initial programs and policies were unexpectedly modest for a country in which nearly half the black majority is unemployed, illiterate and without proper health care or housing.

The limited scope reflected the reality of a government based on a still-untested power-sharing formula and an economy emerging from a four-year recession and a decade of capital flight.

In his most specific pledge, Mandela promised to start a 100-day crash program under his personal supervision to provide immediate health and nutrition services to impoverished families.

Under the program, children younger than 6 and pregnant women will receive free medical care in every state hospital and clinic. Supplementary feeding programs for malnourished children also will begin in every primary school "where such need is established," Mandela said.

Beyond that, he pledged to invest "substantial amounts" to provide nine years of free compulsory education. And he said he had given instructions "as a matter of urgency . . . to empty our prisons of children and place them in suitable alternative care."

Mandela has said that up to 25,000 children and juveniles are held in detention and prisons, but government leaders and corrections officials have strenuously denied the charge.

Although Mandela conceded that "many details . . . remain to be discussed, agreed (to) and put in place," he also pledged to start a public works program to "rebuild our townships, restore services in rural and urban areas" and create millions of jobs.

He gave no overall cost but said his government would allocate $735 million in its first budget for the so-called reconstruction and development plan. He said the money would come from savings and redirected spending in the anticipated $36-billion budget, which will be announced next month.

Funding for the plan, which formed a key campaign pledge of Mandela's African National Congress, will grow each year until spending exceeds $2.9 billion in their fifth and final year, he said. The government also will exert "maximum leverage" with business leaders and foreign aid donors to coordinate private- and public-sector efforts toward helping the poor.

Foreign aid to the former pariah state, now about $500 million a year, will grow to more than $2 billion if the government uses loans available from the World Bank and other institutions.

Mandela clearly hoped that the speech would reassure the still-nervous business community, both at home and abroad, which is awaiting clear signals of intent and policy from a coalition government that includes Joe Slovo, the chairman of the Communist Party, and many other ANC leaders trained in the former Soviet Union and other East Bloc countries.

Eager to create a favorable investment environment, Mandela said he is determined "to contain general government consumption at present levels and to manage the budget deficit with a view to its continuous reduction."

But he offered something less than a no-new-taxes pledge, saying that the new coalition Cabinet was "agreed that a permanently higher general level of taxation is to be avoided."

Mandela's speech was partly overshadowed by a controversy over the surreptitious hand-over by the former government of about 7 million acres of state land to a trust controlled by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini. The transfer was signed by then-President Frederik W. de Klerk a day before the elections and was revealed by a local newspaper Friday.

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