Courtesy Reuters

Mbeki's South Africa

A TALE OF TWO COUNTRIES

In the 11 years since it abandoned white minority rule, South Africa has become two different countries. The first is a dramatic success story: once wracked by violence and synonymous with human rights abuses, this South Africa now boasts a stable political system based on a liberal constitution defended by honest courts. It holds regular, free, and fair elections, and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) enjoys enormous support. This South Africa boasts an economy that, encouraged by a pro-business government, is growing much faster than it did under white rule in the 1980s and is attracting ever-larger amounts of foreign investment. The country's activist president, Thabo Mbeki, has presided over what he calls an "African renaissance," helping the continent resolve some of its worst crises without meddling from the Western world.

The other South Africa barely resembles the first. In this country, the dominant ANC holds such a commanding lead in parliament that it effectively rules the country on its own, viewing any kind of opposition with suspicion. The economy is not growing fast enough to lift the population out of abject poverty or to address the huge structural inequalities. In this South Africa, former Marxist activists turned top government officials remain highly ambivalent about the private sector and foreign investment, and many of their attempts to improve the fortunes of their constituents have resulted in little more than the enrichment of a few black patriarchs. Meanwhile, this South Africa is being ravaged by AIDS, thanks in part to the government's bizarre refusal for years to acknowledge the link between HIV and AIDS and its insistence that the disease can be treated with a homemade remedy. President Mbeki responds to criticism by playing the race card. And he has pursued a questionable foreign policy, coddling local dictators while failing to pay enough attention to critical problems at home.

Paradoxical as it may sound, these countries are one: both visions accurately describe South Africa today, at least

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