AS part of a bid to achieve rapid economic growth in the next decade, South Africa is expected to resume its membership of the Commonwealth soon after its first fully democratic government is installed.
Chief Emeka Anyaouku, secretary-general of the 50-plus group of former British dependencies, says there is a standing invitation for it to rejoin, after a gap of 33 years.
The Commonwealth, the Nigerian diplomat says, will be able to help South Africa as it moves beyond an era of economic sanctions and reintegrates itself into the world trade and investment system.
Nelson Mandela, the leader of the African National Congress who is set to become South Africa's first black president, has indicated the new government will accept the Commonwealth's invitation.
South Africa quit the Commonwealth in 1961 amid acrimony after it came under international criticism for its apartheid policies, which at that time were being implemented with great severity. Until 1961, along with Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, it was a stalwart of the so-called ``white'' Commonwealth.
For the past three decades, Commonwealth leaders have been among the country's sternest critics.
Commonwealth countries at the United Nations spearheaded moves to impose economic and sporting sanctions on the apartheid state. Britain, which has retained trade and investment links with South Africa, sometimes had to struggle to limit the impact of the sanctions on its own economy.
Chief Anyaouku has pledged the resources of the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat, a multiracial group of diplomats and technocrats, in helping the country's new leadership to launch an economic recovery plan. The Secretariat has already been playing a significant part in offering the South African authorities advice on the holding of multiracial elections.
In the future, Anyaouku says, the new government in Pretoria will be able to draw on the experience of other African states that are Commonwealth members in determining economic and social priorities.
``I am very hopeful about the future,'' he says, pointing to the experience of Zimbabwe, another Commonwealth member that for many decades was ruled by a white minority government. ``When Zimbabwe achieved its independence and installed its first multiracial government, there were predictions that violence there would continue, but experience has been otherwise.''
Mr. Mandela's future economic plans include a concerted attempt to attract investment capital from the United States, Japan, and countries of the European Union.
South Africa is the only African country that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank classify as ``industrial.'' It has achieved this status, despite more than two decades of economic sanctions imposed from the outside.
Mandela last October told the European Commission in Brussels that any government led by him would guarantee foreign investments against expropriation by the state.
A key factor in future planning, he said, would be the extent to which the new government is able to tackle unemployment. According to official figures, 1 out of every 2 members of South Africa's potential work force is jobless.
If the situation worsens, pressures for government policies to be given a socialist emphasis are likely to grow. To avoid this, economic growth rates of up to 5 percent a year will be needed, economists say. Average annual growth in the 12 years to 1992 was 1.4 percent, according to South African government figures.