A Year Later, S. Africa Blacks Seek More Despite Progress


MILLIONS of impoverished South African blacks danced euphorically in township streets a year ago after casting their first-ever votes.

Now they trudge the same dusty lanes that are fetid with uncollected rubbish, wondering when the houses and jobs promised them will appear.

A year after his triumphant election as South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela is asking the impoverished black majority for more time to deliver on promises to right apartheid's wrongs.

During the first 12 months of black majority rule, whites sighed with relief that their country did not plunge into chaos.

The bombs that marred the April 26 to 28 poll last year stopped immediately, and civil war threatened by right-wingers was averted. The economy is growing after a long recession, and a new black elite proudly walks the corridors of power and basks in the benefits of affirmative action.

For poor blacks, it's a different story. ''My life hasn't changed -- except for the worse,'' says Sarah Ramaloto, a maid who works in Johannesburg, struggling to support four children and her ailing mother on $200 a month.

''Every day it is harder to get by financially,'' she says. ''Mr. Mandela says we must wait. But will it ever get better?''

Mandela's message has continually been that, yes, it will, but that overturning stale apartheid bureaucracy and reshaping an entire legislation is not achieved overnight.

''I think it is common knowledge that in 12 months we have come a long way in changing some of the evils that haunted the majority of people in this country for the last 300 years,'' Mandela said on April 24.

He added, in a message clearly aimed at the 5-to-1 black majority: ''One must be patient. To change a system which has lasted for three centuries in 12 months is unrealistic.''

Regal leader

To his credit, the charismatic Mandela, jailed for 27 years for his fight against white rule, reigns with a moral authority and legitimacy unrivaled by most heads of state. Preaching reconciliation, he has wooed the white right-wingers from the margins of conflict and overseen reforms of the formerly white-led security forces once despised by blacks.

Even his critics call the end to the political violence, which once claimed thousands of township lives before the elections, something short of a miracle.

''The reality is that this country, for all its faults, is a much better and, in nearly all respects, a more moral one than it was five years ago,'' said an April 24 editorial in the influential Johannesburg Sunday Times.

But the newspaper, like many others, noted that while Mandela's African National Congress-led coalition government has created a more caring society -- channeling more resources into social welfare and reshaping attitudes -- it has little to show except ambitious plans for a five-year Reconstruction and Development Program.

Township schools are still dilapidated. Official unemployment is more than 30 percent. Only 900 new government-built houses have been raised; 1 million were promised. Violent crime is on the rise. Inefficiency reigns in government, where many former liberation fighters have inadequately made the transition to administrators.

Critics cite a slowness by Mandela to act decisively on various issues, including the firing of his estranged wife Winnie as deputy minister of arts, culture, science and technology. The most tangible evidence of social improvements lies in more integrated schools, a feeding program for schoolchildren, and free health care for pregnant women and toddlers.

Mandela, however, cites as one of his biggest achievements the end of South Africa's status as international pariah -- from sports to arts to getting financial aid. Formerly hostile black neighbors now look to South Africa to resolve regional problems. And property prices have soared in the capital Pretoria with the restoration of diplomatic ties with dozens of countries and membership in international bodies, such as the United Nations.

After years of boycotting South Africa for apartheid, foreign firms are returning to do business. From the US alone, the number of companies doing business with South Africa has increased to 500 from 184 three years ago.

Investor-friendly approach

Economists say long-term investment is still slow to flow in as businesses wait and see. But so far, they appear to like what they see in South Africa's fiscal restraint and investor-friendly approach.

''That kind of thing takes two or three years,'' said independent economist Tony Twine. ''Maybe we are halfway down the track for people to evaluate. But at the moment nothing has gone terribly wrong. South Africa is probably the single most highly researched country in the world.''

Mandela, who along with other South African officials has devoted much energy to jetting around the world asking for money, attributes much of the positive response to the success of his coalition government, which has roped in former rivals such as Zulu leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

''One of the unquantifiable achievements we have made is to create a climate of confidence in our country,'' Mandela said.

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