SOUTH AFRICA begins its third year as a multiracial democracy this week with little to celebrate.
It has become the world's most violent and crime-ridden country outside a war zone. An average of 52 people are murdered each day - 10 times more than in the United States and 80 times higher than in Britain.The National Crime Information Center also reports a car stolen every 10 seconds, a woman raped every 30 seconds and an armed robbery occurring every 11 minutes.
One South African province, Kwazulu-Natal, has a real war going on between Zulus who support the Inkatha Freedom Party and those loyal to the ruling African National Congress.
The fighting has intensified to the point where members of the previously sacrosanct Zulu royal family are being targeted. Last week a Zulu princess was killed and a queen was wounded in an attack on one of King Goodwill Zwelithini's homes.
The rest of the country is sunk in economic gloom. South Africa's currency, the rand, has lost 20 percent of its value since February and plunges every time President Nelson Mandela gets a cold.
On the positive side, millions of black South Africans have clean water, better housing and access to quality schools. Electricity is lighting up rural villages and new homes are replacing shacks in the townships.
But investor confidence is at an all-time low, making it difficult for the government to fund such programs. Whites fear one-party rule. Blacks accuse the government of catering to big business. And constitutional wrangling has eroded the once tight alliance between the ANC and black trade unions.
Millions of workers are unhappy with labor clauses in the new constitution, which must be approved by May 10 or go to a referendum.
Like the interim constitution, in force since the country's first democratic elections in 1994, the new charter enshrines a worker's right to strike. But businessmen say this must be balanced by an employer's right to lock out employees in the event of a disastrous labor dispute.
South African Consul-General Hendrik de Klerk, a nephew of ex-president F.W. de Klerk, is supposed to woo American investors in periodic forays from his base in Los Angeles. But even he confesses to being depressed at what is happening in his country.
"As a symbol, Mandela is a good president," he said on a recent visit to Denver. "But he doesn't involve himself much in the business of government, and those under him don't know the business very well." Certainly, the collapse of the rand has taught the government some fairly tough lessons.
South Africa's Financial Mail traced the currency's fall to rumors of Man-dela's ill health and his expressed desire to host Fidel Castro of Cuba and Col. Moammar Gadhafi of Libya. Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo made things worse by actually going to Libya and signing accords that absolved Gadhafi of any blame in the Lockerbie bombing.
A government that does that sort of thing is "flaky," said the Mail.
The Mandela honeymoon is clearly over.