SOUTH AFRICA'S ruling African National Congress has launched an all-out drive to woo the restive black majority, trying to assure them that the ANC's shift from liberation movement to government does not mean its poor constituency will be forgotten.
At the ANC's Dec. 17-21 national conference - its first since sweeping to power seven months ago to lead the first multiracial coalition government - President Nelson Mandela and other leaders expressed an urgency to overcome organizational disarray and quickly deliver on campaign pledges to improve life for the victims of apartheid.
They tried to present a unified front to the media, insisting there had been no major divisions or leadership battles at the meeting, which had an air of victory.
But mindful of local elections due next October, Mr. Mandela and ANC Secretary General Cyril Ramaphosa harshly criticized corruption, financial mismanagement, and inefficiency within the ANC, stressing the organization had to work harder to create millions of promised jobs and homes and make good on promises.
``We talk of fiscal discipline, waste, and inefficiency of the apartheid regime. In fact there is no fiscal discipline in the ANC; there is waste and inefficiency in the ANC,'' Mandela told the 3,000 mainly black and young delegates in his closing remarks.
``We must never forget the saying that power corrupts. Freedom fighters of yesterday have become part of the government without any idea of leadership. They have forgotten the people who put them into power.''
Coming full circle to the movement's roots was the theme at the meeting, held in this agricultural town in the white Afrikaner heartland where the Congress was born in 1912. But this conference, held under the banner ``From Resistance to Reconstruction,'' reversed past meetings. Instead of the people looking to the leadership for guidance, the leadership is now seeking instructions from the masses.
At its last conference in 1991, South Africa's main anti-apartheid movement debated suspending the armed struggle and negotiating with its oppressors, Discussion this time focused on how to balance appeasing the white minority while furthering black empowerment.
Trying to deflect criticism from outside by taking the initiative within, the Congress approved resolutions calling for more rapid progress on transforming institutions such as defense and the civil service, which have changed little since apartheid days.
Delegates noted scant progress in the ambitious five-year Reconstruction and Development Plan, which aims to redress the wrongs of apartheid in health, education, and housing. Underlying the debate was awareness of the discontent of thousands of homeless who have invaded land and buildings and fissures developing among traditional allies in the trade unions and radical ``civic organizations.''
Another focus was the replacement of the old guard, especially Mandela, who called for ``fresh blood'' to invigorate the party.
His deputy president in the government, the suave Thabo Mbeki, was elected to the same post in the party, replacing Mandela's lifelong comrade Walter Sisulu, who stepped down because of his age. Veteran Communist Joe Slovo, who was given the ANC's highest honor, ``The Skin of the Leopard,'' for his fight against apartheid, is suffering from a serious illness.
Two new faces joined the leadership to strengthen the movement's weakest areas. Jacob Zuma is the new ANC chairman, his Zulu credentials a plus when the organization squares up against Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party in the Zulu heartland. Cheryl Carolus, a dynamic activist, who is the first woman and one of the youngest to enter the top echelon, was named deputy secretary general due partly to her organizational acumen. That she is coloured (mixed-race) and from the Western Cape can only strengthen the support in what is one of the ANC's weakest ethnic and geographic bases.