By Angela Quintal

President Thabo Mbeki has denounced critics of South Africa's crime statistics as racists, singling out two female writers for his ire.

They are freelance journalist Charlene Smith - whom he did not mention by name - and South African expatriate Bronwyn McIntosh. Mbeki has criticised Smith before. Smith is a rape survivor and outspoken activist who has campaigned for anti-retroviral treatment, and whom Mbeki has accused of being blinded by racist rage.

Smith wrote in an article published the week after she was raped and stabbed in her home in 1999: "I want you to know that rape is not about race, as some South Africans think... It is about what a few sick individuals do, it has nothing to do with race or malehood."

Writing in his weekly online column, Mbeki said those who questioned the crime statistics were asserting that the government was "lying to the country when we say that gradually we are winning the war against crime".

The statistics showed that, overall, the incidence of reported crime was declining.

Mbeki pounced on a newspaper editorial titled "Crime Stats Lack Credibility", as well as on two articles in last week's The Sunday Independent. One of them, by Smith, was titled "Rape has become a sickening way of life in our land".

He took exception to what he said was a view that defamed African people, and said it should come as no surprise that Smith had written that "South Africa has the highest rape in the world according to Interpol".

"To her, this assertion would have been obviously correct, because, after all, we are an African country and therefore have the men conditioned by African culture, tradition and religion to commit rape."

Referring to Kathleen Cravero, the deputy executive director of UNAids, Mbeki said "other people in high places" shared "Smith's view" that African and Asian men were sexual predators. However, a demographic and health survey funded by the United States government had shown that rural African women in South Africa reported a lower rate of rape than did women in the US, Mbeki said.

"The reference to our rural women is especially apposite because it is in the rural areas that we should find entrenched habits that derive from African culture, traditions and religious beliefs."

Mbeki did not refer to the fact that many women do not report rape.

He took issue with McIntosh for writing an article on the Internet titled "Dangers of South Africa: Fear of Crime". He described her as a "white South African who has emigrated to the United States", and accused her of lying.

"Having convinced her listeners that she fled from her white suburb in Cape Town, because the black savages were at her door, some editor in our country will then seize on her victory triumphantly to proclaim that 'overseas, the perception remains that South Africa is one of the world's crime capitals'."

In the same article, though not quoted by Mbeki, McIntosh talks about how South Africa was more stable under Nelson Mandela.

"I fear that it is regressing under Mbeki. Trevor Manuel, the minister of finance, is doing a sterling job... This is not enough if the government is going to drive investors away with their general mismanagement of the country."

Mbeki had special praise for former US president Jimmy Carter's grandson, Jason, who, as a member of the US Peace Corps spent two years teaching in rural KwaZulu-Natal. Borrowing from Carter junior, Mbeki said the "psychological residue of apartheid" had produced a psychosis among some white South Africans.

"To this day, they do not believe that our non-racial democracy will survive and succeed... crime in our country provides them with the most dramatic evidence of decline... the proof that sooner or later things will fall apart".