In a new book, Southern Africa: Old Treacheries and New Deceits, Professor Stephen Chan places an emphasis on three countries of the southern African subregion: South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. He shows how these nations have, since decolonization and the deposing of apartheid rule, remained interconnected.
Key players in the politics of these countries who are still alive include presidents (or ex-president or prime minister) Jacob Zuma (South Africa), Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Thabo Mbeki (South Africa), and Morgan Tsvangirai (Zimbabwe), all of whom, according to Chan, to a large extent shared similar intellectual capacities and interests, while some of their personalities emerge in other mutual details.
With more than two decades of experience and research expertise in the subregion, Chan draws on the same qualities to offer his readers a superb guide to an area of Africa that observers consider very complex. In thirteen chapters, coupled with acronyms, an introduction, maps, copious notes, and eleven pages of index, he provides semibiographical information on the chief actors and country-by-country discussions.
For example, apartheid is no longer in existence in South Africa, but Chan carefully provides a discussion of apartheid and postapartheid periods in South African history. This is in the context of the historical axiom that while we do not allow the past to control us, we should not forget the past, because, in doing so, one may live to repeat past mistakes. Many Africans and several world leaders have often harped on the evils of apartheid. Therefore, it is important not to forget about it completely. In fact ex-President Jimmy Carter of the United States considered apartheid so insidious and damaging that he axiomatically titled his 2006 Simon and Schuster book on the Middle East Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.
Apart from the important historical accounts of South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, the author writes about the mediation that South Africa offered to Zimbabwe in what he describes as a tragedy indeed, “in the plunging of knives into backs within South African politics” (p. xiii). According to Chan, his book has its own ambition: “to endow what Western media has turned into black caricature with the same sort of life we would automatically assume was inherent in Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Bush, Barack Obama, and Nicolas Sarkozy” (pp. xii–xiii). [End Page 103]
Although world scholarship and the University of Oxford owe a lot to Cecil Rhodes, who endowed the Rhodes Scholarships, we learn from Southern Africa: Old Treacheries and Old Deceits that, today, “giant rainbow-colored lizards dance on Cecil Rhodes’ grave in the Matopos Hills in Zimbabwe” (p. 3). Showing the importance of Rhodes to Zimbabwe itself, which was once known as Rhodesia (Southern and Northern), the author provides an important biographical sketch of Rhodes because, as he underscores, “it is hard to get away from Rhodes” (p. 3). Readers learn that Rhodes had an unreserved belief in civilizing others, and that in “the war against Robert Mugabe’s guerrillas, the soldiers of the white-ruled Southern Rhodesia would be awarded the General Service Medal, bearing Rhodes’ portrait [effigy]” (p. 4). It is of much historicity to note that between 1890 and 1896, Rhodes was the prime minister of the Cape Colony, which is today’s South Africa, and that Rhodes University in South Africa was named after him.
Chan rewards black leaders for their own efforts at unity, as he writes: “Rhodes wasn’t the man to seek to unite Southern Africa. Shaka, the great Zulu Emperor, in his conquests, made unions out of disparate tribes, incorporated either into the Zulu empire or united against it. [Shaka was] a black man recognized even by whites as a great warrior and general” (p. 4). The author does not hide the fact that the southern African region was one of battles and confrontations, and that war stopped in Angola and Mozambique only in the 1990s, both of which had apartheid South African interventions, “although the direct nature of these began to cease after the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale...