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Mbeki slams soothsayers of doom


President Thabo Mbeki on Friday criticised "traditional doomsayers" trying to frighten South Africans with rumours, apparently dismissing claims he intended seeking a third term as president.

In a wide-ranging state of the nation address at parliament's opening, he urged citizens to continue the task of nation building, saying it was clear the sustained calls for all to respond to a new patriotism had struck a chord among South Africans, black and white.

However, the exceptions were the "most selfish and self-centred among us".

Mbeki said the "traditional doomsayers are back at their favourite sport of trying to frighten us with scarecrows".

They were painting monstrous pictures of impending violence during the coming elections, and radical constitutional amendments after the elections by the very people who drafted the Constitution.

He was apparently referring to the Democratic Alliance's claim what the African National Congress might change the Constitution to give Mbeki a third term of office.

Mbeki said: "The masses of our people sacrificed everything to achieve peace and democracy for all of us. These masses will not allow that desperate politicians do desperate things to win or retain power for themselves."

He also warned "those among us who are fond of threatening violence to promote their causes" that the masses of the people were ready and willing to sacrifice once again, to defend the peace and keep alive the sense of hope that enabled them to behave in "mysteriously miraculous ways".

South Africans should continue building a sense of national unity and foster a new patriotism as the country entered a second decade of liberation.

"Working together, in conditions of entrenched democracy, respect for human rights, peace and stability, we must continue to produce the good news that has made our country a place of hope," he said.

After Mbeki's address, National Assembly Speaker Frene Ginwala told MPs the president would announce the general election date at the start of debate on his address in the House on Monday.

Most opposition leaders labelled Mbeki's speech disappointing, saying he had failed to address a number of key issues.

"I felt that people were disappointed. I think the president said very little; he didn't deal with the tough issues that confronted his government," DA leader Tony Leon said.

Mbeki had quite understandably taken credit for that which had been done right, but he had failed to also take responsibility for what had gone wrong.

Instead, he had said it was all a problem of the apartheid-era inheritance, and of resources, Leon said.

Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi also criticised Mbeki for not saying anything substantial about Aids.

"Aids is public enemy number one. Our whole future will come to nought unless it is addressed. Aids is such a threat to everything that we are trying to do," he said.

Buthelezi gave Mbeki credit for reducing inflation, but questioned why there was still no investment.

"Our crime levels are too high; as long as crime is at the level it is, there will be no investment in the country," he said.

New National Party leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk, whose party has a co-operation agreement with Mbeki's ANC, said it had been a "typical end-of-term speech", with no new initiatives or visions.

"That, of course, will have to wait for the other speech in a few months' time."

People would have welcomed more concrete announcements on issues, including Aids and better policing, he said.

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said Mbeki had reminded the nation that South Africans, and particularly its black people, were a forgiving nation.

"However, when it comes to issues like the policies, I was disappointed when he said there will be no changes on the 1994 policies, implying that we are still going to have the neo-liberal economic policy as an albatross around our necks."

Freedom Front leader Pieter Mulder said the problems of HIV, crime and unemployment were getting worse every day.

"So he can't say, 'more of the same' as he said in a sense, our policies are in place and we stick to those policies. On those problems we need new initiatives."

He had also "unbelievably" ignored Zimbabwe.

African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) leader Kenneth Meshoe said that instead of using the opportunity to give the nation hope, Mbeki had merely stated the problems South Africa faced.

"South Africans realise the problems they face on a day-to-day basis. We need solutions, not to be told about things we already know," he said.

However, former president FW de Klerk, who sat in the Speaker's bay alongside former president Nelson Mandela, approved of Mbeki's speech.

"I say it's a dignified speech, it's a good speech, I think in an adequate way acknowledging the milestone which we have reached as a country.

"And I welcome the fact that the president stuck to basically that theme and avoided typical party politics," he said. - Sapa


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