CAPE TOWN--For a stunning example of a young democracy on the rise, South Africa is a nation to behold.
In the short 15 years since apartheid was abolished and Nelson Mandela took over as president in a free election, the country has experienced a remarkable boom.
Here at the more touristy Cape Town as well as in bustly and larger Johannesburg to the north, cranes dot the horizon. New businesses are springing up even in the township of Soweto near Johannesburg, where the sometimes violent demonstrations for freedom broke out in the 1980s and police used rubber bullets and clubs to subdue the rioters.
Mandela, who occupied a prison cell on nearby Robben Island for nearly 30 years, now lives in a comfortably large home in the Johannesburg suburbs guarded by members of his African National Congress. At 88 in retirement, he is still the symbol of the new South Africa, which is no longer the pariah of the world.
Don't be mistaken. Not everything is ideal.
Poverty continues to exist everywhere. The shanties of the townships near Cape Town and Johannesburg are pitiful and shocking to a westerner. Unemployment is anywhere from 24 to 40 percent, depending on your source. Trade unions go with the higher figure.
Education remains far behind the times, especially for young blacks. Until that problem improves, the country will suffer.
AIDS is a mounting concern. The death rate in the country is among the highest in the world. Again, education is one of the answers.
Crime has its roots in the major cities, and police are trying to grapple with its spread.
But all these problems seem in the shadows when you consider how far the nation has come in such a short time. Tourism is the third-largest business behind diamonds and cattle. Under apartheid, visitors stayed away in droves.
Now blacks can live anywhere they want--if they can afford it. There are blacks in the middle and upper class.
Nelson Mandela and his followers in the ANC can be proud of what they have achieved.