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Page last updated at 11:57 GMT, Monday, 11 February 2008

No More Mandelas

By Fergal Keane

Mandela celebrations
No More Mandelas, BBC One 8.30pm Monday 11 February
I've spent nearly 25 years engaged with South Africa and its extraordinary political and human dramas.

When I first went to the country the white regime still refused to allow blacks to share the same buses, toilets, beaches, schools and neighbourhoods as whites.

The place reeked of injustice and cruelty.

I had some of the most intense experiences of my life while living in that beloved country.

After the birth of the democratic state I would occasionally find myself in arguments with people who told me the whole place was going to go down the tubes. More often than not they were white South Africans who had benefited under apartheid.

I believed some of them would never accept the idea that a black person might rule over them, indeed that a black person might rule just as effectively as any white.

Young people in the township
The disillusionment is felt strongly in the townships
But the need to defend a young democracy from arguments that are sometimes founded on racist assumptions should not blind us to unpalatable realities.

My sense is that many in the international community have taken South Africa's post apartheid stability for granted.

We have failed to observe the politics closely or to analyse the exact nature of the economic stability that has been achieved.

Look a little closer and the cracks emerging in society are profoundly worrying.

Unequal society

While the ANC government worked hard to maintain economic stability and growth, precious little of the new wealth has made its way to the poor.

In fact one study by the Institute of Race Relations estimates that the number of people living on less than a dollar a day has doubled since the end of apartheid.

This figure has been furiously rejected by the government but it is much harder to dispute the disillusionment in the townships. It is here where people know that South Africa remains one of the world's most unequal societies.

Wealth remains in the hands of the white minority and an emerging black elite, many of whose members have close connections with the ruling party.

I believe this disenchantment goes a long way towards explaining the rise of Jacob Zuma.

At the end of last year delegates at the ANC's national conference elected him as their new President. As ANC leader Jacob Zuma is in line to be president of South Africa when the incumbent, Thabo Mbeki, steps down next year.

Jacob Zuma
Jacob Zuma is in line to be South Africa's next president
That is if Mr Zuma isn't convicted on corruption and racketeering charges in the meantime.

The delegates also gave the most votes in elections to the National Executive to the convicted kidnapper and fraudster Winnie Mandela.

Like Mr Zuma she is seen as a champion of the poor.

Across the country there is a worrying rise in allegations of corruption against senior figures.

The national police chief, Jackie Selebi, a former ANC politician, faces a court appearance on charges that arise from his friendship with a convicted mobster.

Of course there is much that is good in South Africa. One of the men I admire most in the country, Professor Kader Asmal, a former cabinet minister, told me to remember that the country still had strong independent institutions and a vibrant civil society which could hold politicians to account.

But my sense is that there is a mood in the ruling party which is moving against such independence.

Consider the fact that delegates at that historic conference in December voted to disband the country's elite anti-corruption squad, the same squad which has been investigating Mr Zuma and other party figures.

Others have been criticising the Judiciary and warning of violence if Mr Zuma is convicted.

South Africa still has the potential to be a country that can deliver on the promise of equality for all its' people. But the underlying crises of poverty and, increasingly, corruption could derail the hopes of those millions for whom the end of apartheid meant the promise of a new country.

Panorama: No More Mandelas, BBC One 8.30pm Monday 11 February 2008.

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Watch Panorama: No More Mandelas

Transcript - No More Mandelas
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