New Duranty: DIEPSLOOT, South Africa — A dusty maze of concrete, sheet metal and scrap wood, Diepsloot is like so many of the enormous settlements around Johannesburg, mile after mile of feebly assembled shacks, the impromptu patchwork of the poor, the extremely poor and the hopelessly poor.
Monica Xangathi, 40, lives here in a shanty she shares with her brother’s family. “This is not the way I thought my life would turn out,” she said.
Her disappointment is not only with herself; she is heartsick about her country. Fourteen years after the end of apartheid, South Africa — the global pariah that became a global inspiration — has lapsed into gloom and anxiety about its future, surely not the harmonious “rainbow nation” so celebrated by Nelson Mandela on his inauguration day.
“If only I could make Nelson Mandela come back,” Ms. Xangathi said. “If only I could feed him a potion and make him young again.”
This longing to propel the past into the present is rooted in more than fond reminiscence. Two weeks ago, a vicious power struggle culminated in something like regicide, with the governing African National Congress deposing one of its own, President Thabo Mbeki, and replacing him with a stand-in for Mr. Mbeki’s archrival, Jacob Zuma.
The actual changing of the guard was orderly enough, but months of behind-the-scenes back-stabbing have made many South Africans long for days more abundant with moral clarity, including those fretful about a figure as polarizing as Mr. Zuma.
The past year has been especially unnerving, with one bleak event after another, and it is more than acidic politics that have soured the national mood. Economic growth slowed; prices shot up. Xenophobic riots broke out in several cities, with mobs killing dozens of impoverished foreigners and chasing thousands more from their tumbledown homes.
The country’s power company unfathomably ran out of electricity and rationed supply. Gone was the conceit that South Africa was the one place on the continent immune to such incompetence. The rich purchased generators; the poor muddled through with kerosene and paraffin.
Other grievances were ruefully familiar. South Africa has one of the worst crime rates. But more alarming than the quantity of lawbreaking is the cruelty. Robberies are often accompanied by appalling violence, and people here one-up each other with tales of scalding and shooting and slicing and garroting.
Mr. Mbeki’s political nemesis is Mr. Zuma, whom he once fired as deputy president and who has image problems of his own. In 2006, he was tried on rape charges and acquitted, testifying that his accuser had encouraged him by wearing a short skirt and sitting provocatively. As a Zulu man, he said, he was duty-bound to oblige her. He then showered, as he described it, to “minimize the risk” of contracting the virus that causes AIDS.
Last December, Mr. Zuma won control of the African National Congress, clearing the way for him to assume the presidency after the 2009 elections. Only lingering corruption charges could frustrate his ambitions, and some of his more prominent followers have declared they will “kill” if Mr. Zuma is thwarted. On Sept. 20, party leaders called an early end to the Mbeki years, installing a caretaker, Kgalema Motlanthe. Mr. Zuma remains the president-in-waiting. ...