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South Africa Faces Challenges Ten Years After Apartheid, Says Mbeki - 2004-02-06

Nearly 10 years after the end of apartheid, South African President Thabo Mbeki says the country still faces many challenges, but has made real progress toward bringing a better life to all South Africans. The president was giving his annual address to Parliament, and also marking the upcoming 10-year anniversary of South Africa's first democratic election.

The president's eagerly awaited speech to a joint session of parliament came just two and a half months before the 10th anniversary of South Africa's first non-racial democratic elections in 1994. This is also an election year, and within the next few months voters are expected to go to the polls to choose a new parliament for the third time since the end of apartheid.

The date of the elections is to be announced by the president on Monday.

Mr. Mbeki said it is only natural that he should reflect on the government's performance over the last decade. The president referred repeatedly to goals laid out 10 years ago by his predecessor, Nelson Mandela, the first time he addressed parliament as South Africa's first democratically elected president.

"What I will say is that during this first decade, we have made great progress towards the achievement of the goals we enunciated as we took the first steps as a newborn child. We also laid a strong foundation to score even greater advances during the exciting and challenging second decade ahead of us, as a people united to build a better South Africa and a better world."

President Mbeki said the statistics show exactly how much progress has been made. He says in 1994, more than five-million people were living in shacks, and 60 percent of the population had no electricity.

In the past 10 years, he said, the government has built one-point-six-million houses, electrified more than 70 percent of the nation's homes, and delivered clean water to nine-million people who did not have access to it a decade ago.

But Mr. Mbeki acknowledged that there are still what he calls blemishes that continue to disfigure South African society.

"Almost 10 years after its liberation from white minority rule, our country still faces many challenges. Many of our people are unemployed. Many of our people continue to live in poverty. Violence against the person in all its forms continues to plague especially those sections of our population that are poor and live in socially depressed communities. The burden of disease impacting on our people, including AIDS, continues to be a matter of serious concern."

But he proposed no initiatives to address these problems.

Several political analysts have reacted positively to the speech, saying it was conciliatory in tone and surprisingly devoid of election-year party politics. One analyst said the president spent more time talking about the cell-phone service provider Vodacom than he did talking about his own party, the African National Congress.

But opposition politicians pointed to the things he failed to mention, including the crisis in neighboring Zimbabwe. Some said he did not pay enough attention to AIDS, an issue that has bedeviled his administration with controversy for years.

Several opposition leaders also criticized the president for failing to put forward any programs to solve some of South Africa's enduring problems.