Remember one thing as South Africa prepares to go to the polls this week and the world grapples with the ascendancy of the African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma: South Africa is not Zimbabwe.In South Africa, no one doubts that Wednesday's elections will be free and fair. While there is an unacceptable degree of government corruption, there is no evidence of the wholesale kleptocracy of Robert Mugabe's elite. While there has been the abuse of the organs of state by the ruling ANC, there is not the state terror of Mugabe's Zanu-PF. And while there is a clear left bias to Zuma's ANC, there is no suggestion of the kind of voluntarist experimentation that has brought Zimbabwe to its knees.
The schools wear the blank faces of war buildings, their windows blown blind by rocks or guns or mortars. Their plaster is an acne of bullet marks. The huts and small houses crouch open and vulnerable; their doors are flimsy pieces of plyboard or sacks hanging and lank. Children and chickens and dogs scratch in the red, raw soil and stare at us as we drive through their open, eroding lives.
Even if Zuma was to develop the authoritarian impulses of a Mugabe, he would be checked not least by his own party, which set a continental precedent by ousting Thabo Mbeki in 2007, after it felt he had outstayed his welcome by seeking a third term as party president. The ANC appears to have set itself against that deathtrap of African democracy: the ruler for life.