South Africa's biggest challenge as a democracy is that it is a young democracy, the country's ambassador to the United States said Monday.
Ambassador Franklin A. Sohm is in the middle of a visit to Utah. The visit is in conjunction with Utah's centennial. He met Monday morning with the Deseret News editorial board."The only difference between the South African democracy and America's democracy is that we are a young democracy," Sohm said. "If you take the U.S. back to where we are are historically, you would see that they faced the same problems."
"We are humble about the fact that we are young," he said. But he says the U.S. government and the U.S. media are not well-versed on the way Mandela is running his government.
"The U.S. media speaks to the U.S. concerns," he said, "and the U.S. speaks to its enemies, and its enemies are not our enemies."
He gave the example of a picture that was printed shortly after Nelson Mandela, South Africa's president, was released from prison.
"Newspaper published a color photograph of Mandela embracing Yassar Arafat," Sohm said. The reaction of the world wasn't positive, said Sohm. Leaders speculated that Mandela wasn't the changed man that they thought.
They pointed out that Mandela was affiliated with countries like Cuba, Libya and Iran. Here he was now embracing a known terrorist, said Sohm. He must be embracing terrorism.
But it was no surprise to Sohm that Arafat, two years later was standing with President Clinton and Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn signing a peace agreement.
Sohm said that when Mandela met with Arafat just after being released from prison, he told the Palestinian leader that he must pursue a peace with Rabin just as Mandela was pursuing a peace with his rival, F.W. de Klerk.
World leaders are still concerned about the African National Congress' affiliation with the enemies of the West. But said Sohm, leaders like Fidel Castro and Moammar Gadhafi supported him when no one else did, and he's not about to stop supporting them now.
"The thing about President Mandela is that he's fiercely loyal, almost loyal to a fault."
"The mere suggestion that one leader will say, `You can be my friend, but you mustn't be the friend of my enemies,' " is an affront to Mandela, Sohm said.
"Our job is to show them a better way," he said, speaking of South Africa's shady allies. "You're not going to show them a better way by drawing a line in the sand."
Sohm said that South Africa is emerging as a viable world market. Foreign businesses are setting up shop there, the government's budget deficit is down, and the economy is growing at a steady rate. But their biggest challenge, Sohm said, is to create jobs.
"The central theme of our economic reconstruction is job creation," he said. South Africa's unemployment rate is approaching 45 percent.
Sohm, who is a former business leader, said that foreign business investment will help cure that.
"America knows that its standard of living is a function of the success of America opening up emerging markets," Sohm said. "What we need to do now is to tell the U.S. that we are the Hong Kong of the South."