Mandela's Heir Needs More Than Miracles

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Nelson Mandelaís miracle will look easy compared with the feat being attempted by his successor. South Africaís elder statesman bowed out of the presidency Wednesday as his hand-picked heir, Thabo Mbeki, was inaugurated as head of a state that has abolished apartheid but not yet overcome its legacy. Offering a sober assessment of the dramatic social inequalities that persist in post-apartheid South Africa, Mbeki dedicated his government to overcoming unemployment, hunger, poverty and crime. "The full meaning of liberation will not be realized until our people are freed from the dehumanizing legacy of deprivation we inherited from our past," the 57-year-old new president told tens of thousands of his countrymen and a checkered assortment of dignitaries ranging from Attorney General Janet Reno to Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi. "No night can be restful when millions have no jobs, and some are forced to beg, to rob and to murder to ensure that they and their own do not perish from hunger."

Mbekiís emphasis on social inequality reflects a widespread sense among his partyís support base that the remarkable national reconciliation authored by Mandela has done little thus far to alleviate the grinding poverty suffered by the black majority even as most white people enjoy lifestyles equivalent to those of the middle classes of the industrialized world. As much as half of the black population is unemployed and 9 million black people earn less than a dollar a day, while the average black salary is only one tenth of the average white salary. So while it remains committed to private enterprise and staying on good terms with the IMF, Mbeki's party has swept into power promising to deliver the majority from poverty. But thatíll take more than just miracles in an economy thatís actually shrinking.