In elections, the opposition chipped away at ANC dominance.
Congratulations are due to South Africa. It just held its most competitive national elections – the nation's fourth – since the end of apartheid 15 years ago.
While the African National Congress again won by a wide margin in the April 22 vote, the opposition parties were apparently able to chip off more of the ANC's monolithic block. This growing pushback makes for a healthier democracy in Africa's largest economy.
But politics in this nation of nearly 50 million people is still largely driven by personality, race, and ethnicity. Until political parties evolve into a choice between ideas, they won't serve South Africans as well as they otherwise could. One concern: When the new parliament meets next month to formally elect ANC leader Jacob Zuma as president, it could usher in a period of dangerous ethnic division.
The ANC has a proud heritage as the liberation party of Nelson Mandela. Since it came to power in the 1994 elections, it has presided over a growing economy – helped by the lifting of international anti-apartheid sanctions.
It has built nearly 3 million low-cost homes. About 80 percent of households now have electricity and clean water. Schools and free health clinics have been set up. A small black middle class, dubbed the "black diamonds," has emerged, and South Africa has an independent judiciary and free press.
Here's the flip side to ANC rule. Unofficial unemployment stands at about 40 percent. AIDS, poverty, and violent crime drag down the country. The wealth gap is widening, with mostly whites on the positive side. Without a strong opposition, government corruption has taken hold. Effectively, South Africa has been a one-party state.
Enter the election of 2009. Final results have yet to be released, but for the first time, it looks like the ANC lost control of one of Africa's provinces – Western Cape, a tourist destination and the richest province.