ON A CONTINENT that has had more than its share of turmoil and disasters, South Africa continues to beam a ray of hope. Granted, much of the euphoria of the first days of majority rule in the spring of 1994 has been tempered by the hard facts of real life. But President Nelson Mandela governs by pragmatism and South African voters are proving to be surprisingly astute, considering that the country was long deprived of real democracy.
The recent local elections are a case in point. The ANC rallied, gaining about 60 percent of the vote, to no one's surprise. But the real news of the elections was the strong showing of independent, community-based candidates. This is a hopeful sign. The country's 688 city and rural councils are on the cutting edge of erasing one of the starkest legacies of apartheid, the virtual absence of public services in black and other non-white neighborhoods.
So far, the ANC has failed to live up to its promises of rapid change. Its "Reconstruction and Development Program" ambitiously talks about building a million new homes, electrification of 2.5 million others and large-scale job creation. But the country's needs are so great financing is proving difficult.
When majority rule began in South Africa 18 months ago, the ANC pledged to a five-year power-sharing arrangement with the National Party. That deal was to guarantee political pluralism during the transition. The local elections show that voters, too, recognize the need for political pluralism.
One-party rule is responsible for many of Africa's ills, from corruption to underdevelopment. South African voters have given an example that their neighbors, particularly in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Kenya, ought to follow.