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Published: 4/28/2009

After the count

THE vote count is over in South Africa's elections for its parliament and Jacob Zuma of the African National Congress, which won the three national elections since majority rule and the end of apartheid in 1994, will be the next president, barring unforeseen circumstances.

South Africa's elections are important also to the United States and Africa. It has a population of nearly 50 million and its economy and stability make it a leader in Africa and an unofficial spokesperson in international affairs.

It is no accident that South Africa was the only African country to seat at the recent G20 summit.

The ANC victory might look like "more of the same," but it isn't. The political situation in South Africa is different. The ANC faced two credible opposition parties, the more traditional Democratic Alliance and the Congress of the People, a splinter from the ANC.

Though the ANC won the election by 65.9 percent of the 17.7 million votes cast, it fell only slightly short of the symbolically important two-thirds majority, which would provide it a psychological advantage. The Democratic Alliance won 16.6 percent and the Congress of the People - which only came into existence four months ago and without many financial resources - won 7.42 percent of the vote.

It also is significant that the ANC lost control of the Western Cape to the Democratic Alliance.

Attention has been focused on the difference in leadership that Mr. Zuma presents from his predecessors. Nelson Mandela was the iconic father of his country who brought dignity, wisdom, and compassion to the office as post-apartheid South Africa's first president.

Thabo Mbeki, less charismatic and ousted from office near the end of his term, focused on the country's economic problems. Both of the men are Xhosas.

Mr. Zuma is a Zulu, South Africa's largest and sometimes warlike tribe. He is a polygamist with little formal education. Corruption charges against him were dropped early this month.

Mr. Zuma will face a collection of problems, including unemployment at about 21 percent and the scourge of HIV/AIDS. In foreign affairs, Zimbabwe, under the shameful rule of Robert Mugabe, continues its downward spiral, which has sent untold refugees to South Africa.

Nonetheless, South Africa's general trajectory remains positive. South Africa's economic prospects are excellent, with minerals, industry, agriculture, energy, and good physical and human infrastructure among its assets.

The broader continent will also have a big stake in Mr. Zuma as the new president of his country.



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