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Nelson Mandela and the 2010 World Cup: South Africa at a crossroads

As it prepares to host soccer's 2010 World Cup, South Africa must make a choice: Will it follow the legacy of Nelson Mandela, or slide into racial resentment?

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For decades, sub-Saharan Africa was ignored by the West because it lacked the strategic significance of Asia or Latin America. As it emerged from colonial rule it became a region of often dysfunctional, bad governments; corrupt bureaucracies; savage tribal warfare; and declining, AIDS-racked populations.

There was one major exception: South Africa. South Africa had its own special problems. It was rich with deposits of gold and diamonds. It had a minority, but substantial, white population that had established an extensive infrastructure of roads, railways, and factories, while building up cities and orderly government. But it also had a majority black African population repressed by the apartheid system.

Enter Nelson Mandela. Mr. Mandela led the anti-apartheid African National Congress, which the white government banned. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and spent 27 years in jail before being released by an enlightened Afrikaner prime minister, F.W. de Klerk, who foresaw apartheid’s demise.

Despite being jailed for more than a quarter century for his beliefs, Mandela emerged with near-saintly compassion for both whites and blacks. When he became president, he preached moderation and demanded that there be no retaliation against whites. He declared that whites were essential for the new South Africa. He outlined his vision for a peaceful, productive, truly multiracial society, setting an example for the world.

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