Nelson Mandela is slowly empowering South Africa's blacks

Having spent much of the past six months in South Africa, interviewing political and other leaders as well as residents of Soweto and the Cape Flats, we are baffled by some aspects of Darcus Howe's piece on Nelson Mandela (17 May).

"From all reports," he says, South Africa is heading towards a "bloodbath". Inside South Africa, no one of any seriousness believes such drivel. Unfortunately the UK media, including quality papers such as the Observer, report little from that country except stories of violence, and that may partly explain the "bloodbath" myth. BBC Radio, by the way, by and large reports truthfully from South Africa, perhaps because it is not chasing circulation and ratings.

Howe argues that Mandela is not "great" because he has not succeeded in empowering those "hitherto dismissed as hewers of wood and drawers of water".

As our forthcoming book will demonstrate with many examples, black empowerment in South Africa is vigorous and inspiring at all levels. The pace of it may be questionable, but that is always an issue of dispute in transforming societies. Lenin's transformation started off pacey and exciting, but where is it now, fourscore years on? Lenin sneered at the British mixture of nonconformist religion and socialism, but that has done more for the working class than any communist society. In our view the new South Africa has had a long, cautious, stable beginning that will deliver more to ordinary people in the decades to come than any previous African state, and perhaps more than the South American countries with which it is often compared.

The fact that blacks feel empowered is proved by their 80 per cent support for the ANC and by their vociferous complaints about shortfalls in government delivery of housing, jobs and crime prevention. South Africa is a real black democracy and the world should be paying more attention to that reality.

Gil Elliot and Anita van de Vliet
London NW1

This article first appeared in the 24 May 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Luvvies, stop moaning