The past few days have been the kind that vindicate dreamers all around the world. Like the fall of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe, the death of apartheid is a monumental step toward the realization of human liberties.
A nation that for so long was associated with despotism and racism has finally held elections that allow all people, black and white, the right to vote. Though the official numbers are not yet in, Nelson Mandela appears likely to be the clear victor. His ascension to the presidency of South Africa would be an eloquent symbol for the victory of democracy in his country: he from prisoner to leader, the country from oligarchy to democracy.
The opening of the democratic process and the excitement it has generated will not, however, guarantee success. When the glow of the elections fade, the realities of governing will be immense. As in Eastern Europe and Russia, the job of fulfilling the expectations of the people will be difficult. Nichola M. Buekes '95, a Harvard student serving as an election monitor in the country, noted that "expectations have been raised and promises made that cannot possibly be met in the short run." As South Africa fades from the front pages, the real task of governing will begin.
But future challenges aside, now is a time for giving credit to those who played a part. Credit lies overwhelmingly, of course, with those leaders and people in South Africa who resisted the tide of violence and forged forward with democracy. At times, a tide of violence seemed ready to overwhelm the transition. It was the restraint of leaders and the courage of citizens that made peaceful elections possible.
Yet the cause of freedom for South Africa was in many ways a worldwide struggle. Thousands worked throughout the world to pressure for change.
The debates and protests at Harvard over divestment appear very small in this context, but we can be proud of those students here who tried to force Harvard to divest from its business interests in South Africa. Though their efforts had little success in changing the University's policies, it was these students and others like them who keep the pressure on for a moral policy.
For a campus that often seems apathetic, and even cynical, about the world around it, the events in South Africa should be a powerful lesson about what idealistic struggle can achieve.