SOUTH Africa, also known as the Rainbow Nation, and the New South Africa - endless beaches, the warm Indian Ocean, dolphins, whales and giant turtles playing for the entertainment of the occasional tourist. Paradise.

Read the headlines in the paper; usual stories - murders, rapes, robberies. If only I didn't read the paper, it would truly be paradise.

Today, things are a little more serious. Normally, the headlines are about tragedies occurring many miles away, usually Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban.

Today, however, is different. Eight people murdered, including a three-year-old, a four-year-old and a pregnant woman all living in a small community in our area.

It's not that it's shocking any more, just that it's frightening being so close to home and there is nobody to turn to for assurance that things will improve. The police try their best, but are afraid to enter many areas and their resources are pitiful compared to those of the criminal forces they are up against. I think at last count our gallant local police force had five vehicles, three of which were broken down and there was no money to repair them. All this to patrol an area the size of Manchester! Tomorrow, I'm going to buy a gun - something I swore I would never do and yet I am forced into it.

Last week, an old Irish priest, who had worked in a village missionary for 40 years or so and was spoken of highly by all who knew him, was dragged out of his car and shot dead. There was no need to shoot him. They only wanted to steal his car.

Of course, we have President Mandela, a truly good man. The question on many South African lips, black or white, is how can he and his ANC colleagues ignore the virtual anarchy at home and spend such efforts on world affairs while his country spends its time in mourning for the ever-growing numbers of innocent victims of crime.

The political reaction against the hated apartheid has been so great that I feel the new order has lost sight of reality. Black empowerment at any cost - you need a doctor; he must be black no matter how competent.

You have children at school - most of the teachers must be black, no matter that they cannot read or write.

I fully understand the desire to elevate the black South Africans, but illiterate policemen and convicted criminals in government are not conducive to a stable society. Yet, that is what we have got.

I came from Blackburn to live in paradise, a country given a new start and a golden future. The paradise I saw has rapidly changed its face and although its beauty and vibrancy will prevail and I will remain to see what the future may hold, it must certainly be a modern tragedy that the greedy and ignorant have prevailed. Only their colour has changed.

M P McCARTHY, Widenham, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa.

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.