FRENCH President Francois Mitterrand opened his country's bid for influence in a reborn South Africa yesterday when he addressed the new Parliament.
Mr. Mitterrand's was the first speech by a foreign leader to South African members of Parliament since British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan issued his famous warning of a ``wind of change'' blowing through Africa in 1960.
The French president's visit signaled the possibility of a partnership between South Africa and France in dealing with the challenges of the continent. His presence also countered the continuing marginalization of Africa in world affairs.
Mitterrand promised economic and moral support to South Africa as it continued to strive for democracy. ``We should prove ourselves capable of giving concrete form to the interest we take in your country,'' he said.
``You are building a new nation. My ambition is that France should be by your side,'' he added.
Mitterrand hailed South African President Nelson Mandela as a man of great stature and said much credit was also due his predecessor, Frederik de Klerk.
MPs greeted Mitterrand with a standing ovation as he and President Mandela entered the chamber in Cape Town. Welcoming him, Mandela said South Africa would be forever indebted to the French people and government for the support they gave in the fight against racism.
``Therefore we embrace you, Your Excellency, as one of us - a colleague in the quest for freedom and the social upliftment of ordinary people,'' said Mandela. ``Our union today will certainly lay the foundation for a growing partnership between our governments and peoples in pursuit of a better quality of life and a peaceful and caring world.''
Mitterrand's visit comes as France, the most-powerful Western player on the African continent, faces strong competition from other major trading nations for economic and political ties with South Africa.
Among the competitors are Japan, which this week is expected to announce a $1.2 billion aid package for South Africa. Diplomats in Pretoria say more than $200 million of that would go to the country's post-apartheid reconstruction program; the package is also reported to include $500 million in capital investment guarantees, which means that the Japanese government would underwrite investments by Japanese companies in South Africa. The Japanese announcement is expected during the G-7 summit of major industrial nations that convenes July 8 in Italy.
South Africa qualified for the assistance after being recognized by Japan as a developing country. The decision marks the first time Japan has included South Africa in its Official Development Assistance Program.
Mitterrand is also expected to announce an aid package to South Africa during his two-day visit, as well as the signing of an agreement between the South African government and the French Development Bank.
France is interested in the possibility of new South African purchases of ships, military equipment, and other goods. It hopes to fend off other potential sellers from Canada, the United States, and elsewhere.
Post-apartheid South Africa, with its well-developed infrastructure, mineral wealth, and sophisticated economy, offers the prospect of a strong new player in African affairs. In private talks with Mandela, Mitterrand is expected to tell Mandela that France anticipates a greater role for South Africa on the African