Mandela Passes Baton to a New Generation

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Nelson Mandela’s miracle is complete. South Africans voted Wednesday without fuss or violence in their second free election, confirming their retiring president’s profound achievement of entrenching democracy in a country once wracked by brutal racism and civil war. At the same time, the fact that Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) is expected to win a landslide victory is a sign of remarkable voter patience with a party that has not yet managed to deliver on its promise to provide jobs and homes for the impoverished majority. Rather than trying to unseat the ANC, opposition parties have set their sights on the more realistic -– but by no means certain -– objective of denying it the two-thirds parliamentary majority that would allow it to unilaterally rewrite the country’s constitution.

Much of the ANC’s goodwill has derived from Mandela’s inspirational persona. But the 80-year-old patriarch’s retirement at the pinnacle of his achievement leaves a new generation of leaders to face the complex challenge of correcting the dramatic inequalities of wealth and power bequeathed by apartheid, imbalances that have resulted in growing unemployment and burgeoning violence. Mandela is almost certain to be replaced as president by Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, 56, who has effectively run the government since being anointed by Mandela as his successor two years ago. Although the former ANC diplomat’s competence is unimpeachable, the South African media is awash with speculation about whether Mbeki is an Africanist ideologue or a pragmatist, a democrat or an authoritarian. But with media interviews extremely rare and leaks from his inner circle unheard of, almost everything written about Mbeki is entirely speculative. Suffice it to say that in light of Mbeki's effective governance of the country for much of Mandela’s tenure, it's likely there will be more continuity than change after the votes are counted Thursday.