THE election is over; the paparazzi and media circus have left down. The apocalypse that was expected never happened. Instead, the story of South Africa appears to have become like something that Enid Blyton could have written. There is a tangible sense of euphoria in the air that the country has never seen before. Blacks are smiling with a new-found dignity, while former oppressors seem genuinely happy with their new government and President Nelson Mandela.
For the time being there is relative peace. Profound relief at this is making people somewhat giddy. Those who during pre-election fever stocked their pantries with enough food to see them through a nuclear war aftermath are sheepishly emerging from their cocoons. It's slowly dawning on everyone that the worst is over.
People are having barbecues in their gardens talking of the next big Rugby match. Dinner-party conversation up until the election centred around emigration. Now it's about staying.
Blacks who work as domestic helpers in white suburbs are able to go home again at weekends to rural areas which were previously strife-torn.
The fashion extravaganza seen on inauguration day is still being dissected at tea-parties. Many a snigger is being had over the call by a leading fashion designer for white South African women to have hairy armpits like the women in the new government.
Yes, it's truly a new day in sunny South Africa. Old arch-enemies the African National Congress (ANC) and the Inkatha Freedom Party have called a truce. Mr Mandela and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi have embraced, thus mending a rift that caused thousands to die.
Radical elements such as the far-left Pan African Congress and the extreme-right Afrikaner Weekend Beweeging, the latter responsible for the vicious pre-election bombing, appear to have got the message after dismal polling results followed by death sentences for those responsible for the carnage.
Right now South Africans, white and black, are savouring the moment and the mood, but as Mr Mandela keeps hammering home, there is a long haul ahead. South African police have estimated that the country's ''lost generation'' - the name given to people between the ages of 10 and 30 who have never been to school and are illiterate - numbers at least five million. Durban has the fastest-growing squatter population in the world. Millions of people have no homes, no jobs.
It was said recently at a police media briefing that ''this generation has developed an estrangement and intolerance, and was more destructive than in Beirut or Belfast''.
It is no wonder then that crime is endemic and that thousands more South Africans have died violently since 1990 than were sacrificed by the United States in nearly 10 years in Vietnam's killing fields.
Each day in South Africa last November, there were about 500 white-owned homes broken into, more than 200 cars stolen, about 200 armed robberies and 100 rapes. Murder statistics have risen by a staggering 50 per cent, while statistics released by the Human Sciences Research Council showed that one out of every 123 South Africans fell victim to violent crime last year. These figures, not recently re-evaluated, rose even higher in the months preceding the election.
Lloyd Vogelman, director of the Centre for Study of Violence and Reconciliation at Witwatersrand University, believes South Africa has developed a culture of violence. ''This coupled with a high unemployment rate, an inadequate social welfare system, and expectations which cannot be met by any government, leave only one resort for many South Africans and that is crime.'' Migrations, working parents and the exposure of families to major social change also resulted in adults - particularly in black communities - losing authority over their children, Mr Vogelman said. ''Traditional family values have broken down, there is greater alcohol and drug abuse and because the police force is so inadequate, criminals expect to get away with crimes.'' In the past few years Johannesburg has averaged about 100 murders for every 100,000 people, while Rio de Janeiro, once notorious as the world's murder capital, averages 86 for every 100,000.
Despite all the hope, crime as a result of poverty and unemployment is still the most tempering factor in South Africa.
It is almost unheard of to come across a South African who has not had their car burgled at least once or does not know of someone who has been attacked. Security companies have become rich overnight as imposing fences and walls bearing their logos have sprung up in all areas. Everything from barbed wire and concrete fences to high walls with broken glass on them, and even electric fences, are used.
People sleep with panic buttons above their beds which are linked to a security company and the police station. Big dogs prowl yards just to make doubly sure nobody manages to scale the wall. Guns are kept under pillows and in bedside cabinets. Nobody drives round the block to the supermarket without locking all their car doors and looking behind them, as hijacking has become one of the most popular crimes.
Mark Seymour is a classic example of an everyday South African who believes in the future of the country, but lives unhappily with the crime situation. He and his wife live in Westville, an upper-class residential area of Natal. In the past six months his home has been burgled four times, his wallet cleaned out (the burglars kindly deposited the credit cards in the flower bed each time) and his car stolen. Alarm systems have been thwarted. His garden furniture is chained to the patio, but still regularly gets stolen despite the chains.
Sarah Nelson's parents lived for years in a house on the south coast. Her father was a pastor, but this did not stop criminals from murdering him slowly while they raped her mother eight times and made him watch. The atrocity was punctuated with drinking the liquor cabinet dry and cooking a meal.
Nearly every South African knows somebody who has been hijacked for their car. Police warn that motorists should not stop at traffic lights if suspicious characters are around.
Ferocious Doberman dogs, steel security gates and the latest technology in alarms failed to protect real estate consultant Larry Kuiper, who lives in Midrand's Glen View (Johannesburg). He has been burgled 26 times in the past six months. The final insult to Mr Kuiper was when burglars smashed the main door-frame out of the wall and marched off with the security gate.
A nursery in Natal held a seminar on what plants and hedges to grow that were scenic, but had deadly thorns and were poisonous to the touch. ''Change the appearance of your home from concentration camp to botanic wonder'' read the advert. Needless to say attendance was enormous, as were orders for creepers to cover barbed wire and for dovyalis caffra which has ''vicious, long spines''.
Dog trainers have made small fortunes by teaching pets to be killers. ''Beware the dog'' signs are commonplace on gates.
A Supreme Court precedent was set when a woman was awarded damages after being badly shocked by a company's electric fence. The judge ruled that people with electric fences should erect warning signs or pay penalties.
Those wealthy enough to be able to afford the $1,800 a month for bodyguards do so.
It's a strange thing this, people living with a level of crime that would be unacceptable in most of the civilised world, but as diehard South Africans point out, ''Where else in the world is there a comparable standard of living?'' This is certainly a valid argument. ''The South African property market is one of the great secrets of the international investment scene, with potentially enormous returns to be made,'' said Scott McRas, chairman of Camdon's franchise network.
''Prices here are ludicrous by standards in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States.'' Foreign nationals including several hundred Hong Kong Chinese and thousands of Taiwanese immigrants have latched on to this. A three-bedroom house more than 3,000 square feet in area, with an enormous garden and a swimming pool, can still be had for around $500,000.
Inflation has reduced the buying power of the rand, but whites appear to be living as they always did despite grumbling about increasing prices. Inflation is down to nine per cent from double-digit figures, and is expected to fall to as low as 6.5 per cent by mid-year.
REASONS given for this by the Amalgamated Banks of South Africa are modest increases in salaries, a relatively low increase in money supply with reasonable exchange rate stability, an absence of excessive domestic demand, improved agricultural conditions which have had a favourable effect on food prices, and a decline in interest rates.
Huge amounts of red meat, no longer much cheaper than red meat in Hong Kong, are still being piled on to barbecues. Good wine is still being quaffed in vast quantities, but an excellent Cape wine costs at most only $40 a bottle, while some are less than $5.
Depletion of the ozone layer may have altered the seasons slightly, but the weather is still unbeatable. Sporting South Africans black and white are in their element, having been accepted back into the world arena.
Hotels are admittedly not doing as well as they would like, but a room in Durban's five-star Royal Hotel (the equivalent of Hong Kong's Peninsula) still costs less than $1,500 a night. Special packages at Drakensberg or Zululand resorts cost less than this for an entire weekend. Economists warn that total government debt will top a massive $410 billion, but even this hasn't overly dampened spirits.
In order for the ANC to fulfil its manifesto promises it may have to double personal taxes (to 50 per cent of a joint married income), Value Added Tax or VAT (presently 14 per cent) and fuel tax, but even this sobering thought is being swallowed staunchly by South Africans, who seem to realise that ''biting the bullet'' is the only way forward. VAT will almost certainly be dropped on basic foodstuffs, but luxury goods such as cigarettes and wine may truly become luxuries.
South Africa once considered itself a developed nation, a self-sufficient powerhouse built on diamonds and gold, but that was the view of the ruling white minority. As the ANC shifts into gear, it has become apparent that South Africa is starting to view itself as an essentially Third World nation desperately in need of foreign aid, which has already started to flow since April 28.