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Mandela: SA's greatest son laid to rest (slideshow)
The world watched as Nelson Mandela was finally laid to rest in his hometown of Qunu following a dignified and moving funeral ceremony on Sunday.
Zero Hour plus 235 days
The government is still basking in the afterglow of the elections. It has delivered many bold ideas -- but nothing concrete yet. Anton Harber reports

THERE was before the airplanes. And there was after.

Just before 1pm on Tuesday, 10 May, six South African Air Force jets swept over the Union Buildings in Pretoria, each trailing one of the six colours of the new South African flag.

They were OUR planes, from OUR air force, trailing OUR national colours, over OUR seat of government, in OUR capital city. The crowd gathered in the amphitheatre below -- most of whom would never have been allowed near the building in the past -- gasped with the realisation that the air force was saluting its new commander-in- chief, President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

It was Zero Hour in the new South Africa.

The end of the year marks Zero Hour plus 235 days -- a fitting time to make a sober assessment of the new order. It is more than twice the 100 days Mandela gave himself in his inauguration speech to show progress, and considerably longer than any reasonable honeymoon period.

Yet, the afterglow lingers.

Minister without Portfolio Jay Naidoo summoned journalists to his plush office in the Union Buildings last week to pre-empt suggestions that there had been little progress in the government of national unity's reconstruction and development programme.

He showed impressively thick business plans for major RDP projects; he outlined the elaborate processes that he had gone through to reach this stage; he spoke of the progress of proper policy formulation, full consultation and the creation of structures to ensure effective delivery; and he blamed poor goverment communication for the impression that things were moving slowly.

All of which is true and important. What he couldn't show was a house, a sewerage pipe, a borehole, a transformed township, or a new school.

But that hardly seems to matter at the moment. Despite all the pundits warning about heightened expectations at the grassroots and growing impatience among the mass of deprived people, there is little tangible evidence of it.

Mandela himself has been going out of his way to explain why reconciliation was the initial priority of his government, and how it was essential -- and not inimical -- to reconstruction. If he did not get the recalcitrant old guard behind the RDP, and undermine resistance to it, there would be precious little progress, he has quite rightly pointed out at any available occasion in the past few weeks.

He and other ANC leaders were clearly worried about the flak they might catch at last weekend's triennial national conference of the ANC, with branch representatives demanding progress on social transformation. It didn't materialise.

Why not? Partly, it is a tribute to the success of the policy of reconciliation, and the extent to which the restoration of relative peace in most of the country is - - for the time being -- enough to keep people happy. But it is also because the issue of raised expectations and grassroots impatience has been exaggerated.

Opinion polls show high approval ratings for the government. Mandela is universally loved and trusted. There is an instinctive understanding that change is difficult and will take time. How much time is altogether another question.

Clearly, the new government faces grave difficulties in delivering on its promises to build one million houses, electrify 2,5-million homes, provide 10 years of free and compulsory education for all, create masses of jobs ...

The major obstacle is the civil service -- too big, too old guard, too costly, too much apartheid duplication. And the negotiated agreement to protect all civil service jobs -- the price of reconciliation -- now looks as if it may have been a huge mistake.

Yet, the agreement is to protect jobs, not positions, and to abide by labour legislation in the event of any job terminations. They would have had to do that anyway, so it was not that much of a concession.

In fact, the problem has been the inability of the Commission for Public Administration, headed by Minister Zola Skweyiya, to rise to the challenge of transforming the civil service. He started off the crudest of ways: creating 11 000 affirmative action jobs. It was difficult to see that would transform the service into an effective and efficient one, but anyway the process ground to a halt when he was flooded with two million applications.

The second obstacle was the lack of effective local authorities. These should provide much of the engine of reconstruction at a local level, but elections are only scheduled for late next year -- leaving a huge gap in the RDP delivery machinery.

A third factor has been the chaos in some of the provincial governments. Some, notably the Orange Free State, inherited a coherent administration and relative order and were able to get down to business quickly. Others, notably the Eastern Cape and Northern Transvaal, face the nightmare of unifying three apartheid administrations. Leadership has not always been effective, and progress has been uneven.

Probably the greatest factor of all is the extent to which almost every government department has to be redirected, its resources rechannelled, its structures changed to meet the completely different tasks the new government is setting it.

The bulk of Naidoo's work, in fact, is not the showcase 22 presidential projects, but the daily grind of ensuring that departments shift their resources to meet RDP priorities. This also involves battles between departments -- over issues such as whether the navy should buy four new ships while health has to cut back.

But it is easy to see only these problems. Less easy to see is the remarkable transformation of our political discourse and almost all of our political institutions.

The ANC's greatest achievement has been to unite all sectors of South Africa's highly stratified society behind its RDP. Although the plan is being treated like Mao's Little Red Book, it does mean the debate is no longer over whether there should be a redistribution of resources, but on how to achieve this.

We are the one country in the world where all sectors have thrown their weight behind a radical social transformation. There are, of course, important differences over how this should happen -- but nobody is arguing any longer that it shouldn't happen, and that it shouldn't happen as quickly as practically possible.

Notable at the ANC's conference last week was the lack of ideological dispute, even from communist party and Cosatu stalwarts. The mood is an overwhelmingly pragmatic one: how do we deliver to our constituency effectively and timeously? The debate over privatisation, for example, has transcended the rhetorical flourishes of previous years, and is now focused on whether this policy will release assets for the RDP, and how this can be achieved without compromising the delivery of essential services.

One of the clearest signs of national unity was the fact that the new government imposed an effective wealth tax, though they called it a transition levy, placing a heavy additional burden on those with higher incomes to fund the costs of the election, peacekeeping and the integration of the armed forces. Having warned for years against the dangers of a wealth tax, business and the middle classes accepted it without much protest.

The new, radical social democratic agenda is being felt in all sectors -- education, health, welfare, housing -- but with varying degrees of progress and effectiveness in each of them. One notable areas of progress and one which will fundamentally affect social relations is the draft new labour legislation. Due for release any day now, it is designed to replace the traditionally antagonistic dichotomy of industrial relations with a tripartite partnership among organised labour, business and the state.

Some manufacturers, such as Volkswagen, have been quick to anticipate this and have already adopted groundbreaking agreements that cross the divide between owners and workers.

Most foreign investors, however, are still treating this country with circumspection, watching from a distance to see if stability and growth last beyond the honeymoon. The biggest launch in years was Pepsi's, filling Ellis Park with the music of Whitney Houston and the skies of Johannesburg with fireworks. It was the model black advancement investment, with the new wave of South African businessmen getting into the trenches with African-American investors to fight the cola wars. But the crowd of unemployed outside the new Pepsi factory was unimpressed and refused to go away. Not the kind of sight investors want to see.

The "brothers" from National Sorghum Breweries set the tone for new black-owned business with the launch of its Vivo beer. They described their rival's products as "as pale and sour as the people who made them"; in contrast, they said, "Vivo's got soul".

It's the first affirmative beer -- and the Africanism inherent in its marketing signals a clear divide in the new South Africa. Black middle class expectations of post-apartheid reward are met by near-hysteria in most of the Afrikaans media about white victims of affirmative action.

Parliament also acquired a soul, transforming within weeks from a crusty, tradition-bound home for otherwise unemployable friends of the ruling party, to a vibrant and lively institution for otherwise unemployable ex- freedom fighters. Debate in the chamber was as dull and purposeless as ever, but suddenly the previously comotose parliamentary committees, under the influence of energetic activists, sprang to life and became cabinet watchdogs and critical forums for debate and policy- making.

Parliament was the one institution that took to heart the constitution's fundamental commitment to openness and accountability. The other extreme was marked, ironically, by the Judicial Service Commission, which ignored the spirit in which it was created and chose to operate in darkness, choosing supreme court judges in secrecy and banning the broadcast media from its hearings to choose Constitutional Court judges.

Incidentally, those hearings provided an early test of civil society in the new South Africa -- and it failed. Very little was heard from any of the major interest groups -- such as women, workers, black lawyers, the broadcast industry -- which could be expected to assert themselves on issues important to them.

But these interest groups have much to trumpet about. Ironically, the ANC's firmly progressive social policies put it way ahead of its own constituency. It will be interesting to see if it can sustain its firmly anti- capital punishment, pro-abortion, pro-gender rights, sympathy-for-illegal immigrants policies in the face of growing unemployment and rising crime.

None of this will matter, however, if the government fails to show tangible evidence of delivery on housing, education, health and jobs before the extended honeymoon ends and the afterglow wears off.

Patience will be running out about a year after the inauguration, May 10 1995. It would be good to see the six air force planes repeat their salute, but if Naidoo is doing his job properly, he will probably have diverted their fuel payments to the health budget.

And everyone will celebrate (except maybe a few pilots). Zero Hour plus one year.