When Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa's first black president, he stood on a podium encased in bulletproof glass. The white-haired freedom fighter had just succeeded in tearing down the country's racist apartheid system and needed protection as he brought the country out of a past not so different from the terrorist present in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.
Unifying whites, blacks, Indians, and mixed-race "coloreds" segregated for decades would be tough. But he promised then in 1994 that the nation reborn as a democracy would "never, never and never again" see racial oppression.
Hyperbole aside, Mr. Mandela's vision is largely succeeding 10 years later, with the country's third free elections on April 14. Black South Africans move about without internal passports. They live in once white-only neighborhoods. The sweeping black backlash of violence that many whites feared after apartheid's fall did not materialize. And to heal old wounds, the new government set up a unique Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine past atrocities.
For most South Africans, voting for Mr. Mandela's ruling African National Congress party in nationwide elections this month is a given. After his retirement in 1999, they handed the ANC a landslide victory in parliament, and his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, skated to the presidency. An initially anxious business community is also pleased with the party's economic record: It largely ditched its Marxist ways for capitalism after the Soviet Union's collapse, and adopted stiff fiscal discipline that has kept down inflation and reduced the national debt. In all, Mr. Mbeki's second term looks assured.
But there are widening fissures in the ANC's popularity, particularly among Christians. They have watched newfound liberties slip into license on a host of social questions. In the last 10 years, predominant ANC lawmakers have legalized abortion and pornography. They abolished the death penalty even as violent crime spiked.
Christians are finding themselves battling a culture war much like that facing their American counterparts. South African women have had 350,000 abortions since the procedure was legalized in 1997, in a country of 45 million people. Pregnant girls as young as 11 can abort without telling their parents or getting their permission.
The ban on pornography was lifted a year earlier. Where complete nudity in the media was once a no-go, commercials for sex now run during regular prime-time television. Child pornography isn't illegal either-only distributing it is unlawful.
"The biggest challenge is the breaking down of the moral foundation of the country, which results in the breaking down of families," said Kenneth Meshoe, president of the opposition African Christian Democratic Party. "For years people have been told what to do-now it's like the floodgates have been opened."
The ANC has also earned a reputation for being soft on crime, refusing to consider reinstituting the death penalty despite widespread citizen support for it. About 25,000 murders take place every year in South Africa. That makes murder nine times more common than in the United States.
As burglaries and theft have exploded, affluent South Africans now live in virtual garrisons. High walls crowned with razor wire surround homes fitted with automatic security systems. To avoid carjackings, some residents of commercial capital Johannesburg run red lights when driving late at night.
The country's rape rate is also about four times greater than in the United States. And there are more than just a few cases of men gang-raping infants younger than 6 months old. That practice spread along with the belief that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS.
South Africa has even vaulted past the United States on other culture issues: Homosexual couples have been able to adopt children since 2002. The government is considering dropping the age of consent for homosexual acts from 19 to 16. And another law currently under consideration will make it possible for children to press charges against parents who use corporal punishment.
Part of the rush to liberalism can be attributed to South Africans' wariness of anything resembling old apartheid immorality and penal laws, which helped entrench racial inequality.
Apartheid -meaning "apartness" in Dutch-derived Afrikaans-was born in 1948. Over the next decade, the ruling Nationalist Party codified the segregation with a series of laws that often mixed good with bad. Sodomy and abortion were illegal along with mixed marriages. Membership in the ANC or other African resistance movements carried the possibility of life imprisonment. The death penalty existed for crimes such as murder, but was applied rarely to whites.
Since abolishing apartheid's last traces, the ANC has generously dished out legal rights to previously trampled groups-blacks, women, children, and homosexuals. Now many of those protections have become special rather than equal. And it isn't because of party squeamishness over apartheid excesses, warns Christian activist Peter Hammond.
"They have a smokescreen of fighting apartheid to infiltrate a humanist agenda," he told WORLD. "That's such absolute drivel. If the ANC was pro-life, they wouldn't institute the death penalty for babies. They're consistent humanists."
Mr. Hammond directs the Christian Action Network, which fights for biblical principles in public policy. His group puts out a voter's guide every election. Right now 12 opposition parties are in the National Assembly, but only two Christian ones offer consistent pro-life, pro-family policies. One is Mr. Meshoe's party, whom Mr. Hammond voted for in the last two national polls.
The African Christian Democratic Party is sparking greater interest among blacks, for whom faith and church life are central. It is also drawing the interest of whites with its palatable platform and multiracial leadership. Though only as old as South Africa's democracy, the party has seen its representation quietly grow in the national parliament from two to eight members. In state government, that representation has grown from two to more than 65 counselors in the last 10 years.
"Many black people are long-suffering and patient, regrettably," said Mr. Meshoe, explaining why the ANC continues to draw most black support. Most also carry fealty to the ANC as their liberator from apartheid. But now a younger generation of voters is cropping up. They are more likely to see the party's mistakes-rampant crime and joblessness caused by a too-high minimum wage and inflexible labor laws.
They're also concerned about a skyrocketing AIDS epidemic. About 5 million South Africans are infected with the disease, the most in any one country. President Mbeki's response has been slow and muddled. In the 1990s he was skeptical that the HIV virus actually caused AIDS. His health minister is on record saying that olive oil and garlic could help treat sufferers.
In preventing the disease, the government has mostly ignored the abstinence and faithfulness model that helped Uganda curb its epidemic, preferring to preach condom use in schools. Only two weeks before the election, the government began offering anti-retroviral treatment to the poor, which Mr. Meshoe described as a campaign tactic.
"At the same time, the ANC is losing Christian membership to our party," Mr. Meshoe said. "I, for one, would be surprised if the ANC gets a 50 percent majority this time." And anxiety over the country's moral decay isn't limited to Christians. When party officials have appeared on radio programs and been dismissed as fundamentalists, Muslims call in to defend their family values.
Other Christians have also been considering defecting to the ACDP. Peter Sammons is a Baptist pastor who has always voted for the Democratic Alliance, heir of the white party that opposed apartheid. While any vote against the ANC strengthens the opposition, the social policies of the Democratic Alliance aren't much different, he's discovered, and now the white pastor is for the first time leaning toward supporting a black party in Mr. Meshoe's ACDP. "I think just reducing the ANC's majority might send a message to government in terms of the morals," he said.
South Africans are assessing the first fruits of democracy. After a decade primarily saying "never again" to the apartheid past when they vote, more are becoming anxious about a too-freewheeling future. Mr. Hammond is optimistic that more Christians will wise up to ANC tactics, but he's also unhappy with South Africa's first 10 post-apartheid years.
"Certainly, it was good to end the terrorist campaign and international sanctions and isolation of South Africa," he said. "However, there would be hundreds of thousands of people, including pre-born babies, alive today in a far better South Africa had our new democracy been based on biblical Christian principles and not on secular humanism and socialism."
President Mbeki in this election cycle is picking up the Christian signals, and sees that a small but growing ACDP is a threat. Leading up to the election he singled out his opponent for attack. He joked that if his sister told him she was in love with Mr. Meshoe, he would beat her up. Some ANC radio campaign ads even assert that being a "born-again Christian" is a reason to vote for the party.
For all the opposition's agitation, Mr. Sammons believes it could take another 10 or 20 years before black or multiracial opposition parties actually dethrone the ANC. "Right now they just say vote for us because you need a strong opposition, rather than vote for us because of our principles. The ANC is still seen as the liberator, and therefore the majority will vote for them as liberator. It will be a long time before the country is voting on issues."