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.
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.