By Sujata Rao
LONDON (Reuters) - International investors need not worry about South Africa's future when senior statesman Nelson Mandela eventually dies, as his legacy will be safeguarded, Planning Minister Trevor Manuel said on Monday.
The 94-year old Mandela, the country's first black president, is critically ill with a lung infection, a huge concern for South Africa's 53 million people who revere him as the architect of peaceful transition to democracy in 1994 after three centuries of white rule.
But many investors and economists also fear that the death of Mandela, often considered the moral compass of the ruling ANC party, will embolden the ANC's radical elements, such as those who criticize him for making too many concessions to the white minority or others who call for nationalizing the giant mining industry.
"There have been concerns expressed, unjustifiably, about what happens when Nelson Mandela is no longer with us," Manuel, a respected former finance minister, told Reuters.
He was speaking on the sidelines of a conference held to launch a report on the validity of an annual World Bank business survey.
Manuel noted that Mandela's health had been deteriorating - his last public appearance was in July 2010 - so his role is already diminished.
"It is a deep and profound tragedy but one that in many ways we have been close to and thinking about for many months ... but over the past year he hasn't been able to play the advisory role of a patriarch," he said.
"It is up to us (to see) his legacy lives on. Whether he is physically here or not, it is his legacy we have to protect."
Mandela's illness has coincided with a storm of events for South Africa, which is seeing investors flee its bond markets as domestic worries over chronic labor unrest coincide with a withdrawal of liquidity by the U.S. Federal Reserve.
Many have criticized the government for lack of progress in implementing key reforms in an economy which is grappling with shortages of power, poor healthcare and high unemployment.
Manuel, who was known for his prudent fiscal stance as finance minister, now oversees the National Development Plan, a blue-print for future development. The plan has been under fire from union leaders and communists who have attacked it for placing too much emphasis on private capital.
Manuel said the plan would be debated and he predicted that in coming months there would be advances on several fronts such as with civil service, education and on anti-corruption. But he said the plan would be implemented.
"Even as we work through all these issues, there is no holding off on the plan until some cataclysmic event happens."
Manuel, meanwhile, said it was natural that South Africa, like other emerging markets, was feeling the impact of the Fed's stimulus withdrawal process.
"It's a fact, there are very few safe havens left. There was a time South Africa was seen as one of the safe havens.... We will continue to see periods of uncertainty, but at some point people will start looking for value," he added.
(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)