South Africa's story since Nelson Mandela walked out of prison nearly a decade ago has been one of progress: progress defined by the establishment of genuine democracy, and by the absence of the violent social explosions widely anticipated in apartheid's wake.
Mr. Mandela gets credit for the progress so far. His emphasis on reconciliation held the nation together. It's now up to his probable successor, Thabo Mbeki, to sustain Mandela's theme, while expanding opportunities and services for millions of poor, unemployed South Africans.
The June 2 election, with many parties openly competing for votes across racial and economic lines, further solidifies South African democracy. Mr. Mbeki, the standard bearer for Mandela's African National Congress (ANC), is considered a shoo-in. But he has campaigned vigorously nonetheless, working the crowds despite an aversion to the baby-kissing style of politics. He may lack Mandela's natural geniality. But he clearly appreciates the need to show a genuine interest in the people he'll serve. Mbeki, like Mandela, must prove himself able both to stand for principle and to compromise. His talent for administration is sorely needed, but he'll have to allay concerns that the ANC's overwhelming mandate will tempt him to skirt democratic processes.
Today's South Africa demands that a leader juggle a number of interlocked, though often competing priorities. Leading the list is economic development. The country's lagging growth rate must be boosted. The government has to encourage domestic industry as it lures foreign investment. Growth creates jobs, and unemployment is around 40 percent. Growth will also generate revenue to expand basics like decent schools and health care.
Much has already been done. Hundreds of thousands of new housing units have been built during Mandela's presidency. Millions more people have electricity and nearby drinking water. But the need is still huge.
Huge, also, is the need to reduce a raging crime rate and root out governmental corruption. Mbeki knows these problems well. Firmly attacking them may not please all his ANC rank and file, but it will be key to his effectiveness as a leader.
We wish him, and South Africa, well. The country's progress as a multiracial democracy remains a must-see drama for the rest of Africa, and the rest of the world.