Mandela: Whites Fighting ReformBy Lynne Duke
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 17 1997; Page A01
South African President Nelson Mandela bade farewell to the ruling African National Congress today with a harsh speech in which he accused the white opposition and the white media of trying to thwart post-apartheid reforms to protect their racial privilege.
In stepping aside as planned from the party presidency he has held for six years, Mandela warned that security networks established in the era of white-minority rule were never dismantled and still pose a threat to stability and democracy.
He did not warn directly of racial conflict, but seemed to suggest the possibility when he said that his 3 1/2-year-old government's efforts to transform society still were new and had "not yet impacted seriously on the apartheid paradigm which affects all aspects of our lives. This process has not yet tested the strength of the counteroffensive which would seek to maintain the privileges of the white minority."
Employing the revolutionary rhetoric that characterized the ANC during its long fight to end apartheid, Mandela put aside his well-known persona as a champion of racial reconciliation and took his party's 50th national convention through a hard look at the still-contested terrain it inhabits despite the advent of non-racial democracy in 1994.
Reading from the text of a 53-page report to the party, Mandela said in his four-hour speech that his efforts at reconciliation had been spurned by white political leaders. Specifically, he said the National Party's withdrawal in 1996 from a government of national unity showed that the party -- which instituted the apartheid system of racial separation in 1948 -- viewed the ANC with "implacable enmity."
South Africa's white parties had "decided against the pursuit of a national agenda" and had chosen instead to propagate a "reactionary, dangerous and opportunist" position against the ANC, he said. He accused whites of invoking racist symbolism to gain political mileage from the nation's high crime rate and to suggest that a black government is doomed to fail.
In addition, Mandela said, "the bulk of the mass media in our country has set itself up as a force opposed to the ANC."
Mandela also said, however, that the ANC had failed to create a set of common national objectives that would form a post-apartheid political culture.
His retirement as party president, effective Thursday, marks the first of two phases in his withdrawal from official life. He will remain South African president until his term expires in 1999, but will not seek reelection.
Mandela, 79, has been widely seen around the globe as the moral glue holding South Africa's fragile new dispensation together. But he has tried to dispel that perception and has eased his successor, Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, into the international spotlight over the past several months. Mandela said in a weekend interview that he is more of a ceremonial president these days and that Mbeki is really running the country.
Mbeki is the only candidate for the party presidency in a vote that will take place Wednesday. He will remain the country's deputy president until 1999, when he is expected to replace Mandela in that post, as well.
Mandela's stepping aside is part of a generational shift within the 85-year-old ANC. Several stalwarts of the anti-apartheid movement are expected to be replaced in executive positions by members of a younger generation.
The only wrinkle that could derail the smooth leadership transition is the possibility that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, an ANC executive member and the president's former wife, will be nominated for the party deputy presidency that Mbeki is vacating. ANC officials have become unnerved by her possible nomination because of disciplinary problems she had in the past and because of her demagogic style. The party leadership has largely neutralized Madikizela-Mandela by lobbying branches around the country to back the ANC establishment slate, but she remains an unpredictable aspect of the week's deliberations.
In addition to deciding on the party's new leadership, the 3,000 delegates have to decide issues such as how to make the economy grow; the tension between capitalists and socialists in its ranks; the tension between elites and the party's grass roots; and the question of reconciliation in a society whose politics is run by the black majority but whose economy remains a bastion of the white minority.
That task now falls to Mbeki, who is widely believed to be less concerned about racial reconciliation than about pragmatic transformation of the country.
As the country's main anti-apartheid organization and now its ruling party, the ANC has been grappling for several years with how to define its focus in government. As a liberation movement, the ANC was socialist; as a ruling party, it has embraced fiscal discipline so thoroughly that some of its critics accuse it of being Thatcherite. Its economic policy has become a flash point in relations between the ANC and its traditional labor allies, who fear aggressive free-market policies could undercut labor gains.
The party has promised to rid South African society of the racist legacies of apartheid, but that has proven a far taller order than anticipated. And while transformation takes place slowly, the party is attempting simultaneously to run the country and to maintain its stability in a new political environment that often has the tenor of a free-for-all of self-interest.
Indeed, among the few criticisms Mandela leveled against the ANC today was that opportunism, indiscipline, corruption and elitism were creeping into party structures, a complaint that drew cheers and applause.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company