- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2000

Appeals for debt relief and more investment will be the top issues for South African President Thabo Mbeki during a state visit to Washington starting today, officials of his 11-month-old administration said.

Mr. Mbeki, making his first U.S. visit since he succeeded Nelson Mandela, is also expected to face questions about the seizure of white farms in neighboring Zimbabwe and his controversial position on the treatment of AIDS.

The South African president arrived last night and faces a full schedule today, including a call to the State Department, a luncheon hosted by Vice President Al Gore and at an official state dinner at the White House.

Tomorrow he will meet with leaders on Capitol Hill, deliver a lecture at Georgetown University and receive an honorary doctorate from Howard University. He will spend the rest of the week touring U.S. cities in search of investments and good will.

South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Zuma told reporters yesterday that Mr. Mbeki could be expected to vigorously pursue fresh capital for Africa, convinced this is needed for developing countries to grow.

"It is absurd that poor countries have become net exporters of capital to rich countries," Mrs. Zuma said. "This has to be reversed."

Mr. Mbeki, who serves with Mr. Gore on a commission designed to strengthen democratic and free-market tendencies in South Africa, has already made clear that fighting poverty will be the banner issue of his administration.

He has vigorously advocated debt relief and criticized the negative impact on developing countries of the so-called Breton Woods institutions such the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

He has also challenged the efficacy of established AIDS drugs and annoyed the West by refusing to condemn Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe for his support of the occupation of white-owned commercial farms.

While establishing clear differences between himself and Mr. Mandela, the new South African leader continues to advocate foreign investment, free trade and an optimistic foreign policy resting on the expectation of an "African Renaissance."

Regarding the crisis in Zimbabwe, Mr. Mbeki has focused on the need for the West to finance the redistribution of white-owned land to poor blacks. Mrs. Zuma noted that he has made representations to Britain and suggested the U.N. Development Program may lend a hand.

"It does no good just to go out and issue condemnations," said Mrs. Zuma, who noted that Mr. Mbeki has stressed the need to settle the question peacefully.

"We have left no doubt that we are for free and fair elections [in Zimbabwe next month] and we want outside observers there to make sure," she said.

Mr. Mbeki recently startled Western leaders by questioning accepted thinking on the relationship between the HIV virus and AIDS and on the value of the most commonly used drugs to treat the disease.

The prices of most AIDS drugs are beyond the reach of most people in South Africa, where the disease has reached epidemic proportions. The government has begun looking to buy the drugs from third countries where they are much cheaper.

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