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President Mbeki Upbeat About Achievements, Future


South African President Thabo Mbeki has presented a generally positive review of his government's achievements over the past decade while acknowledging a number of shortcomings. Mr. Mbeki was delivering his annual "state of the nation" address at the opening of Parliament in Cape Town.

Mr. Mbeki came to Parliament on the 15th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from jail. And he came in a confident mood.

"We are not being arrogant or complacent when we assert that our country, as a united nation, has never in its entire history enjoyed such a confluence of encouraging possibilities," he said.

South Africa's economy has experienced sustained growth over the past five years and grew by 5.6 percent last year. And economists are now reporting, for the first time in over a decade, that new jobs are being created. Even so, South Africa still has an official unemployment rate of around 28 percent.

And the South African leader told Parliament that much work remains to further liberalize the economy, and to make it cheaper and easier to do business in this country.

He told Parliament that there has been a reduction in major crime. A report this week, from one of the country's major insurance companies of significant declines in crime-related claims, appears to support government statistics. Even so, Mr. Mbeki acknowledged that crime remains a serious problem.

"Yet, there are crimes such as aggravated robbery and child abuse, which show an increase,” said Mr. Mbeki. “Yes the level of crime, especially violent incidents, remains unacceptable. But we are confident of meeting our target to reduce the rate of contact crimes by seven to 10 percent per year."

Mr. Mbeki promised his government would work harder to implement the government's HIV/AIDS program. However, the Treatment Action Campaign, an AIDS charity and pressure group, says the government is only providing drugs to 20,000 AIDS patients, falling far short of its promise to have 53,000 in treatment by this March.

There are several corruption scandals hanging over the government, and Mr. Mbeki has promised to reinvigorate his anti-corruption efforts. Some two dozen current and former legislators could soon be charged with illegal use of official travel vouchers. In addition, the personal financial adviser to Deputy President Jacob Zuma is currently on trial on charges of bribery and corruption. If he is found guilty, a dormant investigation into Mr. Zuma's alleged role in the scandal may be revived.

Mr. Mbeki said he would continue working with both the government and people of Zimbabwe to ensure the general election in Zimbabwe is free and fair. This disappointed leaders of several South African opposition parties, including Tony Leon of the Democratic Alliance, who doubts the Mugabe government will allow a fair election.

“I think Zimbabwe and the election there on the 31 of March is not just going to happen free and fair as the president suggested it would unless South Africa indicates, whether its quietly or whether its with a loud voice, that its going hold the government of Zimbabwe to account," he added.

Mr. Mbeki also promised to work with the international community to find a solution to the nuclear crises in Iran; to work for free and fair elections in Haiti later this year; and to pursue just constitutional arrangements in Swaziland and the Ivory Coast. He also said that current events in Togo should act as a warning to the people of Ivory Coast.

"The current unconstitutional charade in Togo, following the death of President Eyadema, which ECOWAS and the AU are confronting firmly, adds to instability in West Africa,” noted Mr. Mbeki. “This must communicate the message to the people of Cote d'Ivoire and the rest of our continent that everything must be done to solve the Ivorian crisis, given the importance of this country, which has the third largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa."

Mr. Mbeki said his government will continue to work at improving cooperation among countries in the southern hemisphere and also hopes to strengthen ties with China.

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