For Nelson Mandela, April 27 will begin like any other day. If he sticks to the routine he developed during his 27 years in prison, the 85-year-old former President will wake around 4:30 a.m., exercise for half an hour or so, then read the newspapers over a bowl of porridge, a piece of fruit and a glass or two of milk. And then his day will take a turn. For even in a life still crowded with pomp and circumstance public appearances and private meetings, peace negotiations and speeches, photo ops and fundraisers April 27 will stand out. Mandela will head to South Africa's administrative capital, Pretoria, where he will join his fellow countrymen in celebrating their first 10 years of freedom, an ordinary citizen in a normal land. That in itself is extraordinary. When South Africa's first democratic election, in 1994, consigned apartheid to the dustbin of history and brought Mandela's African National Congress (A.N.C.) to power, many South Africans believed civil war to be inevitable. While his black supporters saw him as a savior who had led them to victory and majority rule, whites were unsure about the man who just a few years before had languished in prison, officially branded an enemy of the state. But the predicted bloodshed and chaos never came and for that miracle South Africans credit Mandela, the one figure able to convince both blacks and whites that this wonderful experiment in rainbow-nation building could really work.
The success of Mandela's experiment has transformed the lives of millions. Mthunzi Mdwaba is one of them. When he was a child growing up in South Africa's Eastern Cape during the 1970s, Mdwaba's future was as bleak and impenetrable as the night sky above his tiny village. Isolated and desperately poor, Mdwaba's hamlet had no electricity, no lights, no windows on the future. "If you lived in a poor township, you could go and look at the lights in the rich neighborhoods and see a better world out there," he says now. "We didn't even know there were lights to look at." But Mdwaba was blessed with a sharp intellect and supportive parents, and he survived the oppressive apartheid education system and went on to study law. Today, at 36, he is executive chairman at Torque-IT, a training company that has contracts with firms such as Microsoft and Cisco. "Home is still much darker than where I am here," he says, sitting in his office in the leafy Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia. "The challenge for me is to take some light back home."
Ten years after South Africa began living Mandela's dream, much has changed but too much still remains the same. The signal improvement is that all South Africans are free: to move where they want, say what they want, vote for the party they support. After a decade of liberation, it's too easy to forget that until Mandela won power, most South Africans had never done these things. Since those historic first elections, the country has been ruled by the A.N.C., which spent over 80 years fighting the racist system imposed by the government of the white minority. It now governs under Mandela's successor, Thabo Mbeki, who is expected to win a second five-year term in this week's national election and be sworn in on April 27 as part of the main day of festivities in a yearlong celebration. Heads of state from around the world will join the party which will include local musicians and 6,000 guests, as thousands more around South Africa hold street parties to mark a decade of democracy.
There's plenty to celebrate. Black South Africans now sit on the country's corporate boards, play on its international sporting teams, edit its most important newspapers, and own some of its best restaurants. Parts of old black townships have been reborn with new roads, new houses and supermarkets where once there were muddy fields. More blacks than whites now buy Jaguars, and a growing black middle class is fueling a housing boom.