SOUTH AFRICA'S fledgling government of national unity, still buoyed by a post-electoral honeymoon, is beginning to confront some of the awesome challenges that lie ahead.
During the past few weeks, the new government has had to deal with several thorny issues, including the occupation by homeless squatters of land earmarked for low-cost housing, nationwide prison riots by long-term prisoners demanding amnesty, and a debate over the functions of a truth commission in addressing human rights violations under apartheid.
``I would not say the honeymoon is over,'' says Cape Town University political scientist David Welsh. ``But African National Congress [ANC] officials in government are now facing the cold and complex realities of a country whose financial resources are not able to meet the expectations of government.''
Deputy President Frederik de Klerk, who has kept a low profile since President Nelson Mandela's inauguration, is upbeat about the way the government of unity is functioning, but said Justice Minister Dullah Omar's recent statement on a truth commission had not been approved by the Cabinet and contained several contentious proposals.
Mr. De Klerk said potentially problematic issues include affirmative-action programs, land ownership and access to land, the size of the civil service, and financial discipline. ``The time has come to put the euphoria behind us and focus on some of the pitfalls and dangers that lie ahead,'' he said.
Professor Welsh said he was encouraged by the speed with which Defense Minister Joe Modise was forced to abandon his controversial decision to gag the Weekly Mail and Guardian, a liberal newspaper, from publishing a report disclosing military intelligence details and the names of ANC officials who acted as spies for the government.
Winnie Mandela, the arts and culture minister and Mr. Mandela's estranged wife, also has been involved in a controversy over accommodating her private bodyguards at the state's expense.
In the past few weeks, renewed political tensions in Natal Province between the ANC and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which controls the province but is the junior partner in the government, have become a tug-of-war over the Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini.
Last week Chief Buthelezi expressed concern about attempts by the ANC to influence the Zulu king and vowed to make the IFP-controlled KwaZulu/Natal legislature responsible for Zwelithini's salary.
But the ANC in Natal has accused Buthelezi of political blackmail and demanded that the status and remuneration of the Zulu monarch should be guaranteed in the Constitution to ensure that he would avoid becoming a political football.
Political scientists and diplomats say the government's first budget, due to be unveiled in Parliament next week, could mark the end of the honeymoon. Budget allocations may intensify rivalry between ministers lobbying for development funds and those wanting to increase defense spending.
MANDELA told the southern Africa summit of the World Economic Forum in Cape Town last week that South Africa's democratic victory ``might not be that easy even though we have had an encouraging start. Problems will arise. Some will be within our capacity to address, and some will not,'' he said.
Speaking at the Organization of African Unity summit in Tunis on Monday, Mandela attempted to douse African expectations that post-apartheid South Africa would resolve Africa's ills. ``You must remember that a new democratic government is still trying to settle down and is addressing formidable problems,'' he said.
After praising Africa for its role in the liberation of South Africa from apartheid, Mandela struck an introspective note, challenging African leaders to end the slaughter of some 500,000 people in Rwanda. ``We must surely face the matter squarely that where there is something wrong in the manner in which we govern ourselves ... the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves,'' he said.