Even after the end of apartheid and the advent of open democracy, South Africa has become a more turbulent nation. After Mandela-The Battle for The Soul of South Africa provides a stirring account of how the country has progressed since 1994, from the rocky evolution of the ANC from revolutionary movement to a governing party, government inefficiency in delivering on its promises to the poor, the complicated but vital issue of land reform, how race relations have “progressed,” and the familiar scourges of AIDS and crime.
Jacob Zuma, the current president who took over after the stunning takedown of predecessor and then-incumbent Thabo Mbeki by his own party, is profiled in a whole chapter that shows why despite his alleged rape, polygamy and corruption scandals, he still captures the love and loyalty of a large segment of the population beyond just his fellow Zulus. Mbeki also features heavily and the author does well to present a revealing picture of the successor to Nelson Mandela who tried unsuccessfully to break away from the shadow of his famous and iconic predecessor.
Russell also features more low-key and regular individuals from the racist innkeeper to wary ANC party supporters and Zuma loyalists who represent the diversity of South Africa, as well as colorful moments such as Zuma’s corruption trial appearance in the High Court in Pietermaritzburg, where a noisy crowd of supporters gathered to cheer him and senior ANC leaders danced the toyi toyi on their way to a VIP enclosure.
Towards the end, Russell takes a brief look at the emergence of China in Africa and the growing ties with South Africa that may either become a true partnership or a subservient one with Beijing being the master. He gives a particularly interesting anecdote about the 2009 Copenhagen environment summit where Barack Obama goes to look for Wen Jiabao and finds the Chinese premier talking with none other than the leaders of India, Brazil and South Africa, basically a collection of the world’s top emerging powers (I’ve never really cared much about Russia despite its BRIC inclusion).
Well-written and compelling, this book will really help to boost your understanding of and give you strong insights into modern South Africa. There is a lot to feel pessimistic about given the vast array of problems afflicting the Rainbow Nation and the burdens of the past and there is always the lurking danger of SA slipping towards destruction and irrelevancy, but one can also believe that there is a lot of room to improve and consequently there is a lot to be hopeful for this potential “beacon” for Africa.
There were several books about South Africa that I wanted to get but in the end this was one of two I got, the other being South African investigative journalist Jacques Pauw’s Dances with Devils. I’m glad I made this choice.