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Mbeki: South Africa Challenged But 'Still On Course'


South African President Thabo Mbeki on Friday outlined his plan of action for his final full year in office. He says his country is "still on course," despite a decline in economic growth, widespread electricity blackouts and infighting inside his own ruling party. For VOA, Terry FitzPatrick reports from Cape Town.

The pomp and ceremony was similar to previous State of the Nation addresses. But this year President Thabo Mbeki walked down the red carpet to a different beat. His address to parliament took a more personal tone.

"I am aware of the fact that many in our society are troubled by a deep sense of unease about where our country will be tomorrow," he said.

With his elderly mother watching from the gallery, Mr. Mbeki promised to tell lawmakers "the truth." He conceded South Africa 's electricity shortage was caused by "weak" government planning.

He acknowledged he must speed up the provision of housing, education, health care, water and sanitation. Rather than list successes, as he has done in the past, Mr. Mbeki outlined work still left to be done.

He called for a "War Room" to coordinate service delivery for the poor. He outlined plans for an energy efficiency campaign and power plant construction. And he proposed 600 million dollars in tax incentives for businesses that create jobs.

"Having all that I have said, I come back to the question: what is the state of our nation as we enter 2008. What I do know and herby make bold to say is, whatever the challenges of the moment, we are still on course," Mbeki said.

Opposition parties give the president mixed reviews. Motsoko Pheko of the Pan Africanist Congress says Mr. Mbeki eased a sense of panic that has gripped some South Africans.

"One of the most important things psychologically is that it reassured this nation that things are not about to collapse," Pheko said.

But Sandra Botha of Democratic Alliance called Mr. Mbeki's speech "deeply disappointing" on specifics.

"We all came here with a sense of anticipation that the president is going to address the deep feelings of anxiety that have emerged in South Africa over the past six months," she said. "But his response is business as usual. And it's simply not going to get South Africa out of the trough that it is now going to enter as an account of the failure of government."

The most anticipated reaction came from former deputy president, Jacob Zuma. He was fired by Mr. Mbeki three years ago over corruption allegations, but last year defeated Mr. Mbeki in a bitter fight for presidency of the ruling party, the African National Congress. Zuma supported Mbeki's assessment of the state of the nation.

"I think the mood of the country is good," he said. "The president himself said so. What the president said is there are some people who have been raising those kind of issues. But he then answered the question and said what I must tell you is the mood good, we are succeeding.

An opposition party says South Africa 's electricity crisis is so severe that it will call for a vote of no confidence in President Mbeki, aiming to force his resignation. But Zuma, who could be in line to succeed Mr. Mbeki, laughed at the prospect of the president resigning.

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