The history of South Africa didn’t start when the National Party came to power in 1948. And apartheid wasn’t the first form of oppression – or the anti-apartheid movement the first revolt – experienced by the many peoples in this extraordinary country.
Contemporary South Africa is renowned among international tourists for its great natural beauty, cultural diversity and excellent wines, but to many of its citizens it is a country in crisis. It is a Janus-faced nation – progressive and underdeveloped, harmonious and confrontational – that defies simple explanations.
Written by two of its veteran journalists, Understanding South Africa is a mature overview of its current political and cultural complexities, traced back to the historical factors that have shaped – and continue to shape – the country. Just how did this nation with 11 official languages and a highly admired Constitution, end up being the most economically unequal country in the world? While not ignoring the legacy of Brit-Boer-Black politics, the authors provide shrewd comment on democratic South Africa’s failure to thrive after being led by an ANC government for more than 25 years. As has become painfully obvious, a focus on alleviating poverty does not by default create prosperity.
There is a chapter on most of the thorny South African topics – such the economy, land and agriculture, education, justice and the law, corruption, political opposition, and violence – as well as the roles played by civil society and the media during the anti-apartheid years and more recently against state capture.
Thoroughly researched but easy to read, Understanding South Africa will prove an astute guide for those seeking an informed, balanced and up-to-date analysis of South African politics and society in the Ramaphosa era.
Carien du Plessis is one of South Africa’s most respected journalists. She writes for The Huffington Post, The Mail & Guardian, and City Press. Martin Plaut, the BBC World Service’s former Africa Editor, has published extensively on African affairs. An adviser to the Foreign Office and the US State Department, he is Senior Researcher at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.
Review by Lise-Marie Keyser