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South Africa: The Best Hope for Success on the Continent

OPINION features excerpts of pieces by columnists from the Op-Ed page and other sections of The New York Times. All columns from the last seven days are available at nytimes.com; Op-Ed pieces (by columnists and outside contributors), plus Editorials and Letters to the Editor, are at nytimes.com/opinion. Please let us know what you think of OPINION at upfront@scholastic.com.

A dozen years after the end of apartheid, South Africa is in the midst of the largest affirmative-action program in the world, an attempt to turn a white-dominated economy into one where the country's more than 35 million blacks have a big stake in owning and running things. The goals of the Black Empowerment program include transferring large amounts of stock and land to blacks by 2011. A parallel initiative aims to end white domination of upper corporate management. But as the U.S. has found with its own affirmative-action programs, progress tends to be fitful and disagreement rife when societies try to shift economic power to correct past racial injustices. With unemployment at around 40 percent, millions of blacks living in shanties, and access to education still inconsistent for many, there is no question that the program has a long way to go. The process could still turn violent or stall; this kind of social engineering is explosive, especially set against the backdrop of 46 years of apartheid. But South Africa needs to stay the course. I see no better hope in Africa for a successful outcome than in the land of Nelson Mandela.

Roger Cohen [3/15/06]