S. African leader vows to fight crime, poverty

/ Source: The Associated Press

South Africa's new president tried to calm a nation roiled by a week of political drama, saying Sunday the government would fight poverty, unemployment and crime.

President Kgalema Motlanthe, 59, a mild-mannered former trade unionist, was installed Thursday after former President Thabo Mbeki was forced to quit by the ruling African National Congress.

Motlanthe, widely seen as a caretaker president until next year's elections, said in nationally televised address that the last week had been "a week of uncertainty and doubt, hurt and anger."

But the government "moved quickly to bring stability," he said, so there would be no new "interruptions" to its activities.

Mbeki's resignation prompted a mass walkout of ministers, leading to fears that political or economic chaos would accompany the change in leadership.

Motlanthe promised no radical change to South Africa's pro-business economic policy, saying "even under difficult global conditions, we will remain true to the course that we have set."

He said the government would continue to fight poverty, unemployment and crime — all areas in which Mbeki is accused of failing.

But Motlanthe faces an uphill struggle in restoring the nation's battered international standing and allaying domestic concerns.

One of the highest crime rates
The country, which is to host Africa's first soccer World Cup in 2010, has one of the highest crime rates in the world with 50 people a day being murdered.

Its police force has been tainted by corruption scandals, and its health care system is battling to cope with the world's highest number of people with HIV. There are some 5.4 million people infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

"Our country faces many challenges, and our people still endure many hardships," Motlanthe said in a speech that stressed unity and co-operation.

Motlanthe said the government would expand access to education, health care and assistance to the poor.

"The crisis in the global economy and the rise in prices of basic goods across the world have been felt in this country, particularly by the poor," he said.

He said the government was "determined to stamp out crime" and was confident South Africa would "host the best FIFA World Cup ever."

Motlanthe, the ANC deputy president, also paid tribute to Mbeki. "It is to him, to his leadership and to his vision that we owe so much of our achievements of the last decade," he said.

Mbeki was forced by the ANC to step down after a judge found he may have interfered in the prosecution of rival Jacob Zuma.

Zuma, the ANC leader, is expected to become president after April elections.