The vote count is continuing in South Africa's elections for its parliament, which will in turn choose the president. The African National Congress, which won the three national elections since majority rule and the end of apartheid in 1994, is likely to be the overwhelming victor and its candidate, Jacob Zuma, will be the country's next president, barring unforeseen circumstances.
South Africa's elections are important also to the United States and Africa. It has a population of nearly 50 million and its economy and stability make it a leader in Africa and an unofficial spokesperson in international affairs. It is no accident that South Africa was the only African country to have been included in the recent G20 summit of the world's powers.
The anticipated ANC victory might look like "more of the same," but it isn't. The political situation in South Africa is different. The ANC faced two credible opposition parties, the more traditional Democratic Alliance and the Congress of the People, a splinter from the ANC.
More attention has been focused on the difference in leadership that Jacob Zuma presents from his predecessors. Nelson Mandela was the iconic father of his country who brought dignity, wisdom and compassion to the office as post-apartheid South Africa's first president. Thabo Mbeki, less charismatic and ousted from office near the end of his term, focused on the country's economic problems. Both are Xhosas.
Mr. Zuma is a Zulu, South Africa's largest (at 24 percent of the population) and sometimes warlike tribe. He is a polygamist, has little formal education, has been charged with rape and graft, and dances and sings at his political rallies.
He will face a breathtaking collection of problems, including unemployment estimated at 21 percent and the scourge of HIV/AIDS. In foreign affairs, Zimbabwe, under the shameful rule of Robert Mugabe, continues its downward spiral, which has sent untold refugees to South Africa.
Nonetheless, South Africa's general trajectory remains positive. Its economic prospects remain excellent, with minerals, industry, agriculture, energy and good physical and human infrastructure among its assets. The broader continent, as well as the South Africans, will have a big stake in Mr. Zuma as the new president of his country.