Jacob Zuma's rise raises questions about its course.
Some 500,000 visitors from around the world, with battalions of print and TV journalists, will descend on South Africa for six weeks, as games are played in cities around the country.
They will find an integrated, multi-racial society that is a far cry from the horrors that once beset the country under apartheid.
They also may very well face a nation whose leadership is in question, and whose future direction is uncertain.
This is the consequence of a shake-up in recent days that has toppled the moderate post-apartheid leadership of Nelson Mandela, and his successor Thabo Mbeki, and introduced Jacob Zuma as the probable new president to assume office in 2009.
Like Mr. Mandela and Mr. Mbeki, Mr. Zuma was imprisoned by apartheid's white supremacy government, although for fewer years than Mandela's 27 behind bars. But whereas Mandela emerged amazingly unembittered, and preached reconciliation with South Africa's white minority, Zuma, president of the African National Congress (ANC), is a forceful trade unionist whose charisma sits well with the militant left wing of the organization. The ANC received the lion's share of credit for bringing apartheid down and now, although linked in an alliance with unions and an ineffectual Communist party, basically controls the government.