CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA — President Nelson Mandela will open parliament on Friday with what aides say will be a candid review of South Africa's first four years of democracy.
The opposition National Party (NP) says Mr. Mandela's speech will be the most important since the country's first all-race elections in 1994.
"The presidential address will have to provide proof the present government has solutions, plans, and the will to execute these plans in the areas of the economy, education, and crime," NP leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk told a news conference.
Mandela will challenge the popular perception that his government is failing to deliver on many of its promises. His ministers are preparing more than 180 bills for debate before parliament adjourns Sept. 23.
Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, expected to take over from Mandela at general elections due between March and May next year, is in effect already running the country.
Analysts say the ruling African National Congress is unlikely to fall below 50 percent of the vote next year, and they expect Mbeki to try to boost the party's 62 percent vote in 1994 and win the two-thirds majority necessary to amend the Constitution.
Commentators said one of the most important and probably most controversial pieces of legislation would be the Employment Equity Bill designed to remove workplace discrimination entrenched by the previous apartheid regime.
"Our concern is that the state will dictate to private employers what to do and will discourage employers from hiring more people. It distracts from the color-blind ideal of a nonracial society," says Michael Schoenteich, parliamentary affairs manager of the Institute of Race Relations.
Welsh says unemployment, which some estimates put at a third of the work force, would top the agenda this year, with a delayed "jobs summit" now due in the coming months. Job creation would be one of the major election issues, along with soaring levels of crime.