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Vol 43 No 10

Published 17th May 2002

South Africa

Will the real Thabo Mbeki stand up?

Ahead of a hectic six months of hosting world leaders and trying to wring trade concessions from them, Mbeki changes course

This year's workload for President Thabo Mbeki is overwhelming. He and his colleagues from Africa's big nations must oversee the transformation of the Organisation of African Unity into the African Union in July when it meets in Durban. In June, he will be in Canada, as chief salesman of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NePAD). In August, his government will host, in Johannesburg, the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development (known as 'Rio plus 10', since it is ten years since the first such meeting, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). And in December, he will face the 50th annual conference of his own African National Congress, whose old allies, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the SA Communist Party, will grumble loudly about the government's free-market economic policies. Mbeki is clearing the decks. To the relief of his supporters and the surprise of his detractors, he has changed his stance on HIV/AIDS and Zimbabwe, which had seriously damaged his own and South Africa's standing in the world. The AIDS U-turn is definite: palliative drugs will be made available, at vast cost to the taxpayer, to those who clearly need them. Solidarity with President Robert Mugabe is replaced by pressure for a power-sharing government and constitutional reform. Mbeki is reclaiming some of his former reputation as the polymath in search of rational and radical solutions.

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