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South Africa, Then And Now

Dear reader,

I'm in South Africa, a country I've already been to four times. The first time I came the apartheid regime was in power. The regime was tottering during my second visit. By my third the African National Congress had come to power.

What I saw on my last visit were several undeniable realities:

1. That South Africa is a modern industrial power;

2. That its democracy actually works;

3. That it is undermined by black racialism and populism--and also by the antagonist of both, capitalism;

4. That its foreign policy is tribal and venal.

These are still true. The country is now in a transition between a government that, initially neo-communist, had transformed itself into a disciplined free enterprise machine and a government which looks more and more like a captive of its silly words and its officials' corrupt habits.

The people in power have finally acknowledged that HIV does cause AIDS, which they had denied all through the presidency of Thabo Mbeki, the man anointed by the Rockefeller Foundation (but that's another story) as successor to Nelson Mandela. Mbeki's intransigent ignorance is no longer dogma. But it has left perhaps as many as a million dead, monuments to his ignorance and dogmatic insolence.

Apartheid is over. But racial separation is still a reality. Driving in downtown Capetown last night, I saw virtually only black people. There are integrated neighborhoods, mostly among the rich and upper middle class. The poor are still segregated--not by law, of course. And there are still those ugly and huge encampments like Gugulethu and Crossroads of old.

I flew into this beautiful city from Johannesburg among passengers of whom roughly 15% used to be stratified as black or "colored." There is at least one "hip" part of the city which looks completely mixed. I don't mean hip as a denigration: they are usually the pioneers in breaking down artificial lines.

This is a gorgeous country, almost unspeakably gorgeous. I am here on safari but I'm no travel writer.

I do have wi-fi, though. So I'll write as time permits.

Marty Peretz