Review: South Africa’s Brave New World & After Mandela

By Patrick Smith

Posted on Monday, 27 July 2009 00:00

South Africa’s Brave New World,? R. W. Johnson, 702pp, Allen Lane?

After Mandela, ?Alec Russell, 336pp, Hutchinson

Greeting the election of Jacob Zuma were two hefty critiques of the ANC’s record over the past decade. Both writers commend Zuma’s pragmatism as much as they distrusted ex-President Thabo Mbeki’s intellectualism, but they point to the lengthening roster of problems besetting the post-apartheid state and voice doubts about whether South Africans have voted for the right man. Russell and Johnson may be paid-up sceptical journalists, but their styles are sharply different. Russell peppers his account with alternately witty and sobering vignettes and leaves much of the political analysis to his myriad contacts – garnered from two stints as a foreign correspondent in Johannesburg.

For the outsider wanting an elegantly written tour of the beloved country, Russell’s is the best choice. Johnson’s 700-page polemic is relentless in arguing for the prosecution of Thabo Mbeki and his allies. For a determinedly-critical account of politics since apartheid, there is little else to rival this. It is rescued by Johnson’s literary flourishes and his sweep of historical references, but its weaknesses are the author’s lack of access to the ANC politicians he excoriates and an over-dependence on daily newspapers. Hopefully, both books will prompt more intellectuals and activists to write their versions of this critical era in the country’s history.

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