President Nelson Mandela, marking his 100th day in office last week, announced plans to set up a truth commission to uncover the crimes of apartheid and begin to compensate its victims.
Conceding that his planned Truth and Reconciliation Commission has generated "some apprehension," South Africa's first black president said that he would go ahead with it anyway in the interest of national healing."What this issue raises is how we deal with a past that contained gross violations of human rights - a past which threatens to live with us as a festering sore," Mandela told Parliament.
He said the commission would not be a court or tribunal but would instead bring to light past misdeeds as it implements a constitutionally required amnesty program and pays compensation to victims or their survivors.
The government has already promised amnesty for political crimes that took place before December 1993 on condition the perpetrators make full disclosure of their misdeeds.
The survivors of black activists killed by South Africa's security forces have objected to such an amnesty, and Mandela may hope to placate them by ensuring they are somehow compensated for their losses.
A truth commission is also likely to be opposed by some black militants who fought the white minority government and do not want their crimes exposed.
Legislation to set up the commission is being drafted by the Justice Ministry and is expected to be passed by Parliament later this year.
Reviewing his government's first 100 days in power, following the country's first all-race election, Mandela said it had succeeded in bringing together bitter enemies and had taken the first steps toward improving life for South Africa's disadvantaged.
His centerpiece reconstruction and development program was on track, Mandela said, and major social projects will be implemented by Sept. 1.
"The yardstick that we shall all be judged by is one and one only - and that is, are we, through our endeavors here, creating the basis to better the lives of all South Africans?" he said.
Problems such as continuing violence, the killing of police officers and increased drug trafficking were being addressed with urgency, he said.
Mandela repeated his government's pledge to spend $700 million this fiscal year to provide health, education and housing for the poor.
The government tentatively plans to allocate $11 billion to help bring living standards of black South Africans to the level of whites during the course of the five-year program.
"The economic signs are encouraging, and the upswing is steadily consolidating," Mandela said, adding that an annual growth rate of more than 3 percent was possible.
The government is to meet with international donors in two weeks to agree on aid for the reconstruction program, said Jay Naidoo, the minister responsible for implementing the plan.
Naidoo told a news conference last week that poor South Africans would begin to see improvement in their living standards by the end of the year as projects got under way.
Mandela noted he had kept his May promise to immediately begin delivering free medical care to pregnant women and children under 6 years. It is the only social program that has gotten off the ground in Mandela's first 100 days.
He said a plan to provide meals to schoolchildren would begin by Sept. 1, and the country's electric utility was beginning the massive job of bringing electric power to poor black townships.
Assessments of Mandela's performance from South African commentators have been generally favorable.
"Appears to have been born for the job," The Star of Johannesburg said of Mandela last week.
But even the more sycophantic observers admit not much of substance has been accomplished so far.
In his first acts after being sworn in May 10, Mandela underlined South Africa's readmittance to the world community after decades as an international pariah.
His government rejoined international organizations such as the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of African Unity and the Commonwealth of Britain and its former colonies.
Political violence ebbed but did not vanish.