In the years after the demise of apartheid, Mandela, as president, preached racial harmony at home and achieved international stature as a statesman of wisdom and vision. When he stepped down in 1999, Mbeki, although far less glamorous, became a reliable successor to extend the Mandela era of moderation.
Zuma is far more controversial. His sexual escapades have made headlines. He has been formally charged with corruption, although a judge recently cleared him on procedural, not substantive, grounds. Should charges against him be renewed, that might complicate but not necessarily deny his ascendancy to the presidency next year. Following Mbeki's ouster by the ANC last month, the ANC installed its deputy leader, Kgalema Motlanthe, as a caretaker president until 2009 elections.
South Africa is the most industrialized nation on the African continent. It is rich in gold and diamonds. An black middle class has emerged and prospered under black political rule.
But many more millions, who perhaps had unrealistic expectations of what the transition from white to black rule would mean for them, remain in primitive housing, without electricity, and without jobs. One consequence has been a shocking crime wave in which disappointed African have-nots seize cars and household possessions from the haves, both black and white.
It has been my good fortune to have connections with South Africa and great South Africans for many years.
When I was a boy in Britain during World War II, my father venerated Jan Christiaan Smuts, the Afrikaner leader who brought South Africa into the war on the allied side over the objections of some of his fellow Afrikaners. Our family was commanded to silence whenever Smuts spoke on the BBC.