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White Power in South Africa Gives Way to Black Power

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By Farah Khan
Special to the NNPA from IPS

By the end of its recent national conference, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) reflected a party that has consolidated power in this once divided country.

The host of the conference, Stellenbosch University, near the coastal city of Cape Town, once bred some of the key intellects of the apartheid era.

Now it welcomed a new generation of leaders of Africa’s newest democracy. White power had given way to Black.

In a valley surrounded by several mountains, the rank and file of the party met to assess how far the party has come in eight years in power. Its delegates thronged the oak-lined avenues attending different meetings to consider progress on development and economic policy.

The verdict: “We have made a good beginning,” said President Thabo Mbeki when he opened the meeting on Dec. 16. Mbeki, who took over the reigns of both the party and the country from former President Nelson Mandela, has stamped a different identity and image onto the ANC.

Under him, it is a far more business-oriented organization, more concerned with implementing policy than with wrangling over whether the correct policy has been chosen. Under him, the ANC is far more aware of its place in Africa and in the world. Whereas the Mandela administration was inward-looking, concerned with managing the transition from apartheid, Mbeki has pledged South Africa’s future firmly to that of the continent.

The ANC conference used a symbol of a Black congress circle, surrounded by a map of Africa. It was essential to secure “the proper integration of the African continent within the world community as an equal partner...with appropriate steps taken to address the adverse consequences of globalization on our continent,” said Mbeki.

The president is often criticized for being out of the country too often, hammering down commitments to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). But this criticism did not arise at the conference as the party pledged to deal decisively with poverty.

An income survey published last month show that most South Africans have grown poorer between 1995 and 2001 with the rich (both Black and White people) taking the lion’s share of income growth. Class lines have clearly stratified in South Africa and this too was on show in Stellenbosch.

While most delegates were obviously of modest means, business people allied to the ANC thronged in a “network lounge” where free Italian coffee, cappuccinos and other gifts were dished out. This is a new face of the ANC.

Mbeki said the party needed to blend its two realities by ensuring that the money and means available for development spending was used.

“We cannot explain to people why we have policies and money, but we cannot implement,” said Mbhazima Shilowa, an ANC provincial leader.

The party has pledged itself to halving unemployment by 2014—joblessness is currently at 30 percent of the working age population. In addition, the party aims to ensure universal access to water by 2008 and to sanitation by 2010.

Other social measures are that the ANC will work toward securing a safety net by drawing together the range of welfare measures into a “comprehensive social security” system.
Mbeki has set himself 2012 as the year when he will have shown to deliver “a better life for all” — an ANC theme that it takes from election to election.

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