SINCE Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa in 1994 and apartheid was consigned to the history books, the country has carried the hopes of all -- black or white, Africans or not -- who wanted it to succeed and become a democratic model for the rest of the continent. For several years the prospects were favourable with a flourishing economy and genuine understanding between the races. More recently doubts have arisen, initially because of the relative ineffectiveness of President Mbeki and more recently on account of the probable succession to the leadership of the governing African National Congress of Jacob Zuma, who faces accusations of corruption and bribery in a multi-million arms deal and whose supporters wear T-shirts proclaiming that he is “100 per cent Zulu Boy”.

Now it seems likely that the ANC, by far the strongest political force in the country, is likely to split; following Mbeki's enforced departure just over two months ago several “Robben Island” comrades of Mandela have left the ANC and plan to announce the formation of a new party. There is already bitter rivalry between Zuma's supporters and those who claim that they are the true heirs of the ANC's legacy of struggle and victory over apartheid. Unless wiser counsels prevail there seems a real risk that South Africa might fall into internal strife. The editor of the South African Sunday Times, Mondli Makhanya, recently wrote about the country's “propensity for violence” and warned of “just how easily the blood tap can be turned back on”.