Courtesy Reuters

Mbeki's Uphill Challenge


Five years ago, the West cheered the fall of white supremacist rule in South Africa. Many assumed that a saintly Nelson Mandela would preside over a new era of racial harmony and economic prosperity that would heal apartheid's wounds. Would that it were so. The new South Africa that Mandela has bequeathed to Thabo Mbeki is still, alas, beset with many serious problems.

On June 2, 1999, the African National Congress (ANC) won 66 percent of the vote in South Africa's second nonracial election. Two weeks later, Mbeki was sworn in as South Africa's second democratically elected president. Mbeki's election was a reminder that a democratic constitutional and legal order is taking root in South Africa. Its new constitution is an elaborate, progressive document that bans discrimination on grounds of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, culture, or sexual orientation. Even otherwise truculent political parties proclaim their respect for the constitution, and there is now a Constitutional Court committed to upholding it. Under Mandela, Parliament purged the statute book of the ugly mass of discriminatory legislation central to apartheid. The Mandela government gave high priority to improving the impoverished black masses' quality of life and appointed unprecedented numbers of women to political office. South Africa has a free and vigorous press that does not hesitate to expose the country's problems and denounce politicians' errors, although it is generally careful to support the government's main goals. Moreover, after being treated as a pariah during the apartheid era, South Africa has finally rejoined the British Commonwealth and become an active player in peacekeeping diplomacy in tropical Africa.

The bad old days of apartheid are gone, and good riddance. Thousands of South Africans of all colors and classes are now dedicated to the success of the new South Africa and spend their lives working for a healthy outcome as the country moves away from its racist past. But they confront extremely formidable obstacles, which are the product of a complex blend of historical

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