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Credit for Equality : Neutral development bank for South Africa could spur investment

Nelson Mandela is in the United States this week seeking substantial foreign investment to help speed the transition to a post-apartheid South Africa. He is seeking billions of dollars of investment to be channeled through a neutral development bank until a new South African government finally comes into power. It’s a superior idea worthy of support.

Mandela is urging the creation of an independent South African Trust for Equity and Development, free from control by the current white-minority government or his own African National Congress political party. Modeled after the World Bank, the development bank could begin to operate before a new government takes control.

It is safe to assume that Mandela will raise this issue when he meets Thursday with President Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III. A strong U.S. commitment is essential to get the South African development bank off the ground. American leadership would almost certainly influence other potential donor nations to join in.

Mandela is also expected to promote the development bank when he meets with the heads of major philanthropic foundations. He has already received guidance from Peter C. Goldmark Jr., president of the Rockefeller Foundation.

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To have any impact, the South African Trust would need to raise billions of dollars from public and private investors. Substantial international investment is essential to bridge the huge gap between the Western standard of living enjoyed by most of South Africa’s white minority and the Third World poverty endured by most of its black majority. Equity in employment, housing, education, health care and other government services could cost as much as $20 billion.

Mandela’s timing is not terrific. He comes to Washington seeking relief at a time when millions of Americans need jobs, health care and other assistance.

Congress, mindful of the growing needs at home, may be reluctant to approve massive aid even to hasten the end of apartheid. Even so, foreign aid is essential to encourage the nascent political solution to the apartheid issue. Talks are scheduled to begin this month.


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