BRITAIN'S Gordon Brown and South Africa's Thabo Mbeki should get together to compare notes. They have much in common. Each took over the leadership of his country from a charismatic predecessor but has been unable to maintain the style. Although it may not seem to be the case viewed from Britain, President Mbeki's situation is much more serious than Mr Brown's. It is not an exaggeration to say that hopes for a better Africa rest to a considerable degree on South Africa's performance. It is a relatively rich multi-racial country with many institutional similarities to successful Western democracies. If any African country could show the way forward to the rest of the continent, it would be South Africa. Or so it seemed. Now, however, hopes are fading. The outbreak of hatred against foreigners in Johannesburg in the past week has shown that black-on-black brutality is no different from any other form of violence anywhere else. In response Mr Mbeki's statements have contained the right words but his political actions have not matched them. South Africa has absorbed some five million economic immigrants, some from as far away as Somalia but the majority from Zimbabwe.

This influx might have been manageable if Africans in their townships had seen any improvement in their living standards since independence but they have not. Mr Mbeki's failure to take the lead over Zimbabwe's future has been deeply disappointing. President Mbeki's term of office ends next year. Will he also have that in common with Mr Brown?