PRESIDENT NELSON MANDELA's idealistic economic and political goals -- which are so eloquently incorporated in South Africa's new constitution -- will be severely tested by the end of the two-year partnership between the African National Congress and the National Party. As of June 30, Deputy President F.W. de Klerk will quit the unity government, along with seven white Afrikaner ministers.
This is a watershed event. As national government becomes the virtual monopoly of the ANC, an organization that has always advocated non-racialism but still is viewed with suspicion by many of South Africa's minority whites, the leading grouping of those whites -- and many coloreds -- will be in official opposition.
Overall, South Africa's transition from apartheid to majority rule has gone far better than even many optimists believed was possible. Such a verdict ignores the reality, however, that the government has been largely unable to keep its promises about improving the material conditions of the country's non-white majority. As a consequence, dissatisfaction is increasing, crime is rampant and labor unions restless.
Since whites control virtually all economic power, many fear that a forced redistribution of wealth is only a question of time. Investors seem to share these fears about future. The value of the rand has fallen recently, the stock market has plummeted to new lows and foreign capital is fleeing. This kind of psychological hangover after nearly two years of post-apartheid euphoria had to be expected: South Africa's problems are so great, the contrasts of its living conditions so extreme.
In its idealism, the new constitution serves as a painful reminder of how far the country is from the noble goals Mr. Mandela has set for the ANC administration.
The 140-page basic law is an astonishingly progressive document. It bars discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, pregnancy and marital status and establishes rights to housing, health care, water, food and education.
In reaffirming a strong presidency and cental government but also giving the nine provinces more power on local matters, the constitution hopes to alleviate some of the political tensions that will be unavoidable in the future.