/ 26 March 2008

De Klerk confident about SA, but warns on crime

South Africa’s economy and civil society are strong, ensuring the country will not follow the downward spiral of Zimbabwe, FW de Klerk, the last white president of the country, said in an interview published in Germany on Wednesday.

De Klerk, who shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with his successor as president, Nelson Mandela, predicted a period of great uncertainty and warned that crime was driving skilled white people out of the country.

But he insisted in an interview with the daily, Die Welt: ”The moderate centre is holding, across all racial lines.”

De Klerk predicted that the dominant African National Congress (ANC) would maintain its alliance with the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party and remain in power.

He dismissed the fears of many over newly elected ANC leader Jacob Zuma, a populist leader bidding to take over when President Thabo Mbeki steps down after two terms in May 2009.

ANC moderates would form a new party if Zuma took unacceptable decisions, De Klerk predicted.

De Klerk (71) expressed criticism of ANC leaders for a ”racist undertone” in some of their speeches and he was also critical of Mbeki for his criticism of white South Africans.

The biggest challenge facing South Africa was reducing poverty, De Klerk said, pointing to about half the population living under the poverty level.

The highest priority had to be given to fighting crime, he said.

Mbeki had recently for the first time acknowledged that crime was a serious threat.

”Now action must follow,” said the former minority president, who helped manage a constitutional handover of power to a majority government under Mandela in 1994. — Sapa-dpa