On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and entered the last remaining European colony in Africa: South Africa.

From all sides and nations, the hope was that the 72-year-old Mandela, convicted and imprisoned 27 years before for treason, would bring down the edifice of apartheid and build, in its place, the new Jerusalem. With his gracious, old-fashioned courtesies, mild manner, and tempered pronouncements, he appeared eminently qualified to meet those expectations.

In espousing liberty, equality, and fraternity over tyranny, discrimination, and retribution, Nelson Mandela was to negotiate a place for South Africa in the modern world. Resentment at the injustices of white domination was to be eschewed. All of South Africa’s people—the “rainbow people,” not a minority—were to be sovereign.

Mandela’s story was irresistible to writers with a Manichaean outlook. One hagiography after another was delivered to a worldwide public starved for heroes. He was rapturously received everywhere in the Western hemisphere. He was awarded the Nobel Prize. Honorary doctorates fell on his shoulders like confetti; his name adorned streets, squares, and schools in every continent.

The skeptics were party poopers. Professor Donald Horowitz, a constitutional expert, was deemed unduly pessimistic when he judged democracy to be possible “but improbable in South Africa.” Margaret Thatcher, in the twilight of her reign, was rebuked for depicting the communists’ utopia as “cloud cuckoo land.” Professor Walter Williams was being politically incorrect when he depicted the African National Congress (ANC) and the National Party (NP) as kindred spirits, opposed to liberal individualism and hell-bent on the continuation of a disastrous collectivism. Joe Slovo, leader of the South African Communist Party (SACP), implicitly rejected Francis Fukuyama’s thesis when he said that socialism, having failed everywhere else in the world, “shall be built correctly for the first time in South Africa.” There was outrage when Sir Laurens van der Post, who had been a prisoner of war of the Japanese, visited Mandela and declared that he appeared to have learned nothing “from the school of suffering.” And Prof. George Ayittey, an eloquent witness to Africa’s post-colonial betrayal by its emerging elite, was met with incredulity when he counseled Mandela not to accept power.

The skepticism of these informed and perceptive observers was founded on what they knew about the liberation movement and on their observations of the parlous political and economic course Africa had run during the postcolonial period. The elite that came to power in post-apartheid South Africa comprised three groups. The smallest, and the most powerful, were the “exiles” —who, for the most part, had been educated and acculturated not within South Africa but inside the Soviet bloc or under the strong influence of socialists and communists in Western institutions. A second group had captured the leadership of the trade unions. The third group consisted of assorted anti-apartheid activists ranging from religious leaders to Africanists.

These factions espoused philosophies that had in common an opposition to modernism and its potent transmitter, the competitive market process. Africanists called for a rediscovery of African history. The communists, although they had always been suspicious that the Africanists meant liberation to be enjoyed exclusively by blacks, were careful not to undercut the Africanist myth shaped around Mandela. Their intention was to conflate the Africanist with the socialist conception of liberation that was to spring from the radical transformation of South Africa.

Since 1990, the South African liberation movement has won a dazzling series of victories. It negotiated a political settlement with the white minority and wrote a constitution that serves its transformative goals; it has won two elections with overwhelming majorities; and it launched the transformation program which came to be known as the “national democratic revolution.” The election of 1999, however, was the movement’s coup de grace, giving the ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance the two-thirds majority which will enable it to proceed toward its one-party goal without having to answer either to an internal or to an external opposition. The constitutional protections of private property, minority rights, and the separation of powers can now be dismantled and the national democratic revolution realized.

These have been pyrrhic victories. Unemployment continues to rise. Accumulated job losses from 1989 to 1999 reached almost 850,000. There has been a marked increase in the emigration of skilled people from all racial groups. Some 20 percent of whites (who total 4.4 million of South Africa’s 40.5 million persons) travel on a British passport. A study conducted by Trade and Industry Monitor, an independent research unit at the University of Cape Town, found that 233,609 South Africans had moved to the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand between 1989 and 1997.

With the normalization of relationships with other African countries has come an influx of immigrants from neighboring states like Mozambique, Lesotho, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which are among the poorest on the planet. Most of the immigrants are destitute. Not surprisingly, there is rising xenophobia. All of South Africa’s major cities, and most towns of any size, are now ringed by shanty towns where law enforcement is impossible. They are, in point of fact, truly ungovernable.

Thanks to corruption and incompetence, most provincial and municipal governments are bankrupt and inoperative. Much of Cape Town is terrorized by rival drug-peddling gangs fighting over turf Downtown Johannesburg is rapidly becoming a wasteland. Residents of its once salubrious northern suburbs live on barricaded streets with armed patrols. Former guerrilla bands prey on banks and armored trucks, killing policemen and security personnel mercilessly in invariably successful raids.

All manner of individuals and factions pillage the commonweal. Yesterday’s liberation heroes steal from their NGOs. CEOs raid the coffers, while employees steal what they can. Particularly worrying is the high number of policemen murdered—three per day. In 1999, more than 180 farmers were killed.

Rape has overtaken apartheid as the national curse. In his 1999 Brooker Prize-winning novel Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee leaves the reader to decide whether the rapists are culpable individuals or the product of history. This is no mere abstraction, but a burning issue in a country in which it is estimated that a woman is raped every 26 seconds. And rape has become the more heinous because 22 percent of the population of South Africa, by the reckoning of the government, is HIV positive.

In a six-hour valedictory speech to the ANC in December 1997, Mandela accused the media, “racist bureaucrats,” and white political parties of impairing the transformation. Repudiating the notion of a multiracial, multiparty democracy, he appealed to all black parties to join the Alliance. Mandela identified the inherited order of apartheid as the cause of the rising disorder, corruption, and violence. As Patrick Bulger of the Johannesburg Star pointed out:

Mandela projected a view of society which holds that the ANC’s project of transformation is the only show in town; all else is counterrevolutionary. Father one is with the ANC, or one is against it; there is no middle ground.

Mandela’s embrace of a one-party Africanist state shocked outside observers. He was not steering the transition but merely moving with the tide. Tragically, the ideologues of the Alliance are exercising the power of their one-party state by extending the reach of collectivization.

The dynamics are now clear. An exclusive polity and economy are propelling South Africa to an end state characterized by an homogenous premodern African society and a premodern economy. It remains to be seen whether the apartheid past will spur black South Africans to assume ultimate responsibility for their circumstances or be used as an excuse to shun them.

And what of Mandela? He deployed white communists to negotiate a dispensation that transferred power from the Afrikaners to the Africans and then “sold” this deal by behaving in an impartial manner for which he earned iconic status. He was, and is, an Africanist. The seeming contradictions in his behavior that have puzzled so many are a reflection not of the man but of Western projections. These have been invariably inappropriate because, for over a century. Westerners have been ruled not by their intellect but by their sentiments.

The liberal pro-Boers were right about the British Empire: It had no moral foundation. But they were wrong to idolize the Boers. Unlike the British, they formulated not a civic but a cultural and biological sense of nation. Loyalty was not to a set of evolved institutions but to a mystically conceived race, an emotive bond of blood. A seemingly unlikely alliance of Afrikaner farmers and white trade unionists, led by the communists, tamed capitalism’s driving forces and channeled them in the interest of their alliance. An order of ascriptive stratification, coercively imposed and sanctified by a racist interpretation of sacred texts, secured the domination of the whites in general and the Afrikaners in particular.

The apartheid state was a collectivist, anti-modern project. The constituent elements in the victorious liberation movement also exhibited deep-seated revulsion against the modern world. Sharing these values, the ANC-SACP alliance offered South Africa a version of redistributive justice.

By rationalizing misappropriation and graft as retribution, socialism’s redistributive justice has destroyed honest endeavor. By conceiving group justice to mean simply the ascendancy of Africans over their white colonizers, any semblance of moral authority has been surrendered, while at the same time the merit principle has been destroyed. The one-party state precludes the operation of a multiparty democracy. Diminishing political and economic freedoms reinforce the movement toward social unrest and economic stagnation.

Socialism has not been built correctly for the first time, as Slovo predicted it would. The communists have failed to conflate class with race, for race has proved to be a stronger bond than class or notions of nation. Freedom does not reside at the end of this particular struggle.

Gerald Kaufman described Coetzee’s novel Disgrace as a millennium book, “because it takes us through the 20th century into a new century in which the source of power is shifting away from Western Europe.” South Africa’s 20th century started with a war between European peoples over mineral wealth; it is ending with their emigration. The trading arrangements of the European empires, with their resident colonics, have long since given way to what is now termed “globalization.” Those who are able are taking their chance with this new order by emigrating. This is not the headlong rush of two million pied noirs out of Algeria in the summer of 1962. Rather, it is a steady strengthening and irreversible exodus that constitutes the last great trek of people of European heritage out of Africa.