South Africa is a model of racial reconciliation following decades of apartheid, with a burgeoning black middle class. But high crime, unequal wealth, and social tensions persist as the nation hosts World Cup 2010.
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Johannesburg, South Africa
In Johannesburg, skyscrapers loom where rolling Highveld prairie once stood. In Cape Town and Durban, and even the stoutly midwestern city of Bloemfontein, smoothly paved highways, world-class airports, and posh hotels flourish amid South Africa's temperate, Mediterranean climate.
The insurgent and impoverished black townships that would have been do-not-enter zones in the early 1990s have now become tourist havens. The most famous of them all – Soweto, site of riots well into the 1990s – is ribboned with bed-and-breakfasts, gated communities, and shopping malls. It will play host to the opening ceremony and game in the spectacular new Soccer City stadium, with speckled panels that make it look like a gigantic calabash gourd. Or a poppy-seed bagel, if you prefer.
IN PICTURES: South Africa: Sixteen Years After Apartheid
The South Africa that will go on display this month is a country that has completed its transformation from a racist pariah state into a multicultural majority-led state, with many of the accouterments of a European first-world powerhouse. It is a country that has achieved much in little time, and while many South Africans fret about the direction their country is heading and others complain about the slow pace of change – and understandably so – it is also a country that 16 years after apartheid has become one of the world's premier models of racial reconciliation.
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