Saturday, June 19, 1999 Published at 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Analysis:Thabo the conqueror
Thabo Mbeki emerges from the background as a winner
By the BBC's Africa Correspondent Jeremy Vine
He may be short on charisma, may have nothing like the pull of the remarkable Nelson Mandela; he may be diffident in public, unknown to the wider world - but this week Thabo Mbeki became a winner.
The ANC's vote is currently hovering around the symbolically important two thirds mark. Breaking through 66.7% will drive home just how spectacular this election success has been.
Official statistics say around nine million earn less than a dollar a day. On average, a black worker earns only one-tenth of the salary of the average white; black unemployment is put unofficially at 50%, and thousands live in shacks waiting for the ANC to deliver on its promise to build a million new homes.
The explanations vary. Talking to ordinary black South Africans, you often pick up an almost otherworldly patience with the government - yes, they say, things are bad: "But the ANC has built some new homes, installed standpipes and power lines, maybe not where I live, but soon it will be my turn."
A bullet-proof party
Then there is the magic of Nelson Mandela. His aura, as captivating in his own country as it is in other people's, has papered over the cracks. Corruption in national and provincial government, sky-rocketing crime, and above all, the grinding poverty - they all seem to become less important when Mr Mandela is asked about them. His saintly status has bullet-proofed his party.
The Democratic Party, which has seen its vote leap from less than 2% in 1994 to nearly 10% as things stand now, chose the campaign slogan "Fight Back". The unspoken theme was it would sink its teeth into the black government on behalf of white voters.
The New National Party (descended from the old National Party, which enforced white minority rule) has fallen into a hole in the ground in this election. In 1994 it captured a fifth of the votes - now it has under 7%, so may get less than 30 seats in the 400-strong parliament. Shorn of its status as official opposition, it looks to be on the critical list, with the NNP's schoolboyish leader Martinus Van Schalkwek lampooned as "shortpants".
It claims to have no plans to - belatedly, during the campaign, Thabo Mbeki made that clear - but the other parties have raised all kinds of worrying possibilities: that the ANC wants to dispense with judges, will water down constitutional rights to own property, shift power dramatically from provincial to national government, tamper with the independence of the Central Bank, and so on.
"It's a worst case scenario," Tony Leon, leader of the Democratic Party, told me after election day, which sounded like acknowledgement that an element of scaremongering had gone into the claims.
But there are concerns nonetheless: with so much support, the ANC can do what it likes. It will be accountable to the electors again in five years' time, but between now and then it can govern with cotton wool in its ears.
Or can it? Thabo Mbeki has promised to "accelerate change" and "end lives of poverty", pledges which sound like they need to be made accompanied by the theme tune from Mission Impossible.
The incoming president has set a high standard for himself, and the scale of the ANC's victory suggests some of its support could be flaky. The party's only fear must be that one day, with Mr Mandela gone, the patience of its long-suffering supporters finally gives out.