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Dismissing talk of disillusionment with his government, Nelson Mandela answers the questions that will determine South Africa's future

South Africa currently suffers the highest crime rates in the world. Why do you think this is, and what is your government doing to tackle the problem?

Crime levels in South Africa are very high - too high. But our country does not suffer the highest crime rate in the world. This misconception is an ironic result of the public campaign that South Africans are waging against the scourge of crime.

Viewed against the backdrop of the era of apartheid violence, with a police force that concentrated its resources on dealing with political opposition, and the apartheid social disparities - it was to be expected that with the political conflict addressed, the issue of crime would stick out like a sore thumb.

With the determination that they showed against apartheid, South Africans have joined hands to deal with crime. In one of our nine provinces, where political violence persisted after the 1994 elections, we set up special police and army task forces, brought in the capacity of the intelligence services, integrated the operations of the criminal justice system as a whole, and within months such violence was essentially eliminated.

This is our strategy against all of crime - to bring to bear all arms of the law methodically and systematically. The National Crime Prevention Strategy adopted last year and operational police plans have targeted cities where crime is rife.

There is now a reduction or stabilisation in levels of high priority crimes such as murder, car hijacking, rape and drug trafficking. Turning around a trend of many years is in itself a major achievement.

Central to our programmes is improving management and efficiency in the police service and the criminal justice system as a whole. This includes establishing, for the first time in our country, a single database for the criminal justice system, dealing decisively with corruption within the service, and improving the morale of a police force seen as illegitimate by the majority of the people, a force that was underpaid and overworked.

The welcome entry of South Africa into the world community of nations has also meant that experienced syndicates have targeted the country as part of their worldwide operations. Thus, we have set up joint programmes in Southern Africa and further afield to narrow the space for crime.

Critical as these short-term measures are, the most important long-term solution is the improvement of the quality of life of all.

"It was to be expected that with the political conflict addressed, the issue of crime would stick out like a sore thumb"

What role do you see South Africa taking in the global economy?

South Africa has many unique attributes. Besides high quality products in agriculture, mining, vehicles, plastics and other, it offers magnificent scenery, a unique people and eco-system.

The country enjoys a sophisticated banking system, transport and other infrastructure. Our country is emerging from isolations with much of its potential yet to be fully tapped. It has a potential to become one of the most attractive growth points.

This applies to such areas as telecommunications, where a multi-billion dollar deal has just been struck with international companies to extend and modernise our network. In various parts of the country, we are developing clusters of industries with large and small projects in what is akin to an industrial revolution.

Beyond our borders, for instance, along with Mozambique, a Development Corridor has been launched including road construction, aluminium processing, revitalisation of the Mozambican port of Maputo and exciting tourism opportunities - projects amounting to billions of dollars. The building of infrastructure is one of the largest areas of investment.

We can go on and on. What is critical is that we are offering great opportunities to investors in the context of profitable partnership between private and public sectors, and in the context of sub-continental integration of a region with great and varied resources and a market of some 130 million people.

Besides, South Africa enjoys the unique opportunity of being located between Asia and Latin America, allowing economic cooperation across oceans and possibilities that we have only started to fathom.

What progress has been made in tackling the social problems caused by apartheid?

Economic growth should have as its fundamental aim the building of a better life for all our people. This finds expression in our Reconstruction and Development Programme including all our macro-economic policies.

As its basic foundation, this programme includes building an open, democratic and just society based on consistent adherence to the culture of human rights.

Our policies have resulted in a turn-around in the economy, with phenomenal growth in manufacturing, exports in general, and a high rate of new fixed investments.

Expanding our wealth base in this way allows the Government better to address the social needs of especially the poor and destitute.

In just three years of democratic government, we have restructured the education system and ensured access for all children. We have introduced free primary health care, launched nutrition programmes affecting millions of children, and built hundreds of clinics.

The programme to assist the poor with subsidies to build their own houses has already benefited hundreds of thousands. Recently, we provided the millionth person with accessible clean water. And there are very successful programmes to assist small and medium enterprises, to provide land and farming skills, and to improve industrial relations and conditions in the workplace.

Initial euphoria and hope following your election in 1994 seems to have been replaced by disillusionment in some quarters. Were expectations too high for short-term solutions to South Africa's problems?

Our programme is being implemented through the partnership of the Government, the private sector and communities at large. Together, we identify the blockages and devise measures to deal with them.

It would be to underestimate the intelligence of South Africans to assume that they do not appreciate that backlogs arising from centuries of neglect and denial cannot be resolved in one fell swoop.

Wherever we go, people indicate that they prefer faster change. But they also acknowledge that the foundation has been laid; that working together, we shall reach our objective of a better life for all.

Besides, what may seem insignificant to the privileged is highly appreciated by the poor: clean drinking water within walking distance, free primary health services and so on.

And for all South Africans, we have achieved the freedom to be free, and together we have rolled up our sleeves to tackle the problems.

What are your priorities for the rest of your term in office?

I am part of a robust collective of able leaders both in the African National Congress and in the Government. This team has been my source of strength, my pool of ideas, my armour in difficult times.

Together with them, and backed by the mass of the people, we are speeding up the process of improving the nation's quality of life.

As we do so, we are addressing the capacity problems that we have found in the machinery of government. We have created the foundation for sustainable economic growth; and above all, we have introduced a culture of human rights and co-operative and transparent government.

We must also persist in building national consensus about the challenges that we face. Given our diverse backgrounds as individuals and as communities, we need an extra effort to weld ourselves into a united nation. We need to know our past in order not to repeat it; and on the basis of mutual respect, reconcile our people across the apartheid divide.

This task of nation-building and reconciliation will also depend on each of us appreciating the good in all of us, acknowledging the integrity of each other as individuals and as communities.

Reconciliation will be realised in the context of democracy and equality; in the midst of joint efforts to improve the quality of life for all, especially the poor.

I am confident that our country and my organisation, the ANC, have an able leadership and a resilient people. This gives me the peace of mind that when I go to rest - even forever - I will have left behind a society in which our grandchildren and great grandchildren will enjoy peace and prosperity, and develop themselves and the country without artificial limitations.

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©Kensington Publications 1997