The South African elections of 1994 constituted one of those rare historical moments when humankind made a significant step forward. The peaceful culmination of a liberation struggle, which for years many had feared would end in a bloodbath, registered not only a triumph for the democratic ideal but the resounding defeat of racism as an organising principle of government. If its more recent reference point was the collapse of dictatorial régimes throughout Eastern Europe during 1989–90, it can more distantly be identified as following in the grand tradition of 1789, confirming and extending and elaborating the ‘rights of man’. Yet historical ‘progress’ rarely unfolds in an uncomplicated way, and — however momentous and however much the external world may be willing it to succeed — South Africa's new democracy, by fairly general agreement, faces daunting tasks.
* Professor of Political Studies, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.