By Mike Hanna
CNN Senior International Correspondent
PRETORIA, South Africa -- The inauguration of Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa in 1994 signaled the emergence of a new society working to overcome its divided past. It was a past in which the nation was split not only on racial lines but on ideological ones as well.
On one side used to be a vehemently anti-communist white regime -- regarded by the United States as a vital bulwark against Soviet expansionism. On the other side were members of the African National Congress -- then a liberation movement that looked to the Soviet Union and its allies for assistance in the battle against apartheid.
Thabo Mbeki was one of those grateful for Russian support. But now the man poised to succeed Mandela as president believes the time has come for the continent's people to take control of their own destiny, in what he calls a process of African renaissance.
"A contributing factor to this matter is the end of the Cold War," Mbeki says. "We are no longer looking for countries that would be your allies in the fight against the Soviet Union. And so the urge to hold on to people, to tell them what to say and think and do has greatly diminished."
But in all too many African countries, the shadows of the Cold War still loom.
In Angola, the rebel forces of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi continue a civil war that began more than two decades ago. Until the late 1980s, UNITA received U.S. and South African backing in its battle to unseat the Marxist MPLA government. This support has been withdrawn, but the war still rages.
Likewise in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. Previously known as Zaire, it was ruled for more than 30 years by Mobutu Sese Seko -- who was selected long ago by the administration of U.S. President John F. Kennedy as the linchpin of American anti-Soviet policy in Africa.
The end of the Cold War saw the end of Mobutu's usefulness to the West. Left to his own devices, Mobutu continued to wield absolute power -- until the forces of Laurent Kabila drove him from the capital of Kinshasa to a lonely and unmourned death in exile.
But the cycle of violence initiated in Cold War years has not ended. And now President Kabila is, in turn, facing a widespread rebellion that threatens to destabilize the whole of central and southern Africa.
No signs of peace either in Somalia, another Cold War battleground. Anarchy is the order of the day there. Once courted by East and West, Somalia is now utterly abandoned by the international community. The killing of U.S. and other soldiers in a U.N. force was the final action that drove away even those who had come to help in the post-Cold War period.
Yet there are indications that Africa as a whole has not been abandoned. The visit by U.S. President Bill Clinton last year was regarded as a signal that a new relationship was being forged with the United States -- a relationship in which Africa is increasingly viewed as an equal partner in economic cooperation rather than a mere pawn in a global, ideological struggle.
Among those attempting to spearhead an African renaissance in the next millennium, there is still the strong hope that things can change. They have a strengthening belief that enlightened leadership by Africans for the benefit of Africans could ultimately repair the ravages of the Cold War -- and leave far behind the sad memories of a period in which the continent's people lost control of their own destiny.