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History > African History > Southern Africa

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South Africa's Struggle for Human Rights Cover

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South Africa's Struggle for Human Rights

The History of Rights in South Africa

Saul Dubow

The human rights movement in South Africa’s transition to a postapartheid democracy has been widely celebrated as a triumph for global human rights. It was a key aspect of the political transition, often referred to as a miracle, which brought majority rule and democracy to South Africa. The country’s new constitution, its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the moral authority of Nelson Mandela stand as exemplary proof of this achievement. Yet, less than a generation after the achievement of freedom, the status of human rights and constitutionalism in South Africa is uncertain. In government the ANC has displayed an inconsistent attitude to the protection, and advancement, of hard-won freedoms and rights, and it is not at all clear that a broader civic and political consciousness of the importance of rights is rooting itself more widely in popular culture.

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South Africa's Weapons of Mass Destruction

Helen E. Purkitt and Stephen F. Burgess

South Africa's Weapons of Mass Destruction offers an in-depth view of the secret development and voluntary disarmament of South Africa's nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons program, Project Coast. Helen E. Purkitt and Stephen F. Burgess explore how systems used for nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons in South Africa were acquired and established beyond the gaze of international and domestic political actors. On the basis of archival evidence from Project Coast and their own extensive interviews with military and political officials, Purkitt and Burgess consider what motivates countries to acquire and build such powerful weaponry and examine when and how decisions are made to dismantle a military arsenal voluntarily. Questions such as how to destroy weapons safely and keep them from reappearing on international markets are considered along with comparative strategies for successful disarmament in other nation-states.

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Spear of the Nation

Umkhonto weSizwe

Janet Cherry

Umkhonto we Sizwe, Spear of the Nation, was arguably the last of the great liberation armies of the twentieth century—but it never got to “march triumphant into Pretoria.” MK—as it was known—was the armed wing of the African National Congress, South Africa’s liberation movement, that challenged the South African apartheid government. A small group of revolutionaries committed to the seizure of power, MK discovered its principal members engaged in negotiated settlement with the enemy and was disbanded soon after.

The history of MK is one of paradox and contradiction, of successes and failures. In this short study, which draws widely on the personal experiences of—and commentary by—MK soldiers, Janet Cherry offers a new and nuanced account of the Spear of the Nation. She presents in broad outline the various stages of MK’s thirty-year history, considers the difficult strategic and moral problems the revolutionary army faced, and argues that its operations are likely to be remembered as a just war conducted with considerable restraint.

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Steve Biko

Lindy Wilson

Steve Biko inspired a generation of black South Africans to claim their true identity and refuse to be a part of their own oppression. Through his example, he demonstrated fearlessness and self-esteem, and he led a black student movement countrywide that challenged and thwarted the culture of fear perpetuated by the apartheid regime. He paid the highest price with his life. The brutal circumstances of his death shocked the world and helped isolate his oppressors.

This short biography of Biko shows how fundamental he was to the reawakening and transformation of South Africa in the second half of the twentieth century—and just how relevant he remains. Biko’s understanding of black consciousness as a weapon of change could not be more relevant today to “restore people to their full humanity.”

As an important historical study, this book’s main sources were unique interviews done in 1989—before the end of apartheid—by the author with Biko’s acquaintances, many of whom have since died.

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Tabloid Journalism in South Africa

True Story!

Herman Wasserman

Less than a decade after the advent of democracy in South Africa, tabloid newspapers have taken the country by storm. One of these papers -- the Daily Sun -- is now the largest in the country, but it has generated controversy for its perceived lack of respect for privacy, brazen sexual content, and unrestrained truth-stretching. Herman Wasserman examines the success of tabloid journalism in South Africa at a time when global print media are in decline. He considers the social significance of the tabloids and how they play a role in integrating readers and their daily struggles with the political and social sphere of the new democracy. Wasserman shows how these papers have found an important niche in popular and civic culture largely ignored by the mainstream media and formal political channels.

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Tonga Religious Life in the Twentieth Century

The religious life of the Tonga-speaking peoples of southern Zambia is examined over the last century, in the sense of how they have thought about the nature of their world, the meaning of their own lives, and the sources of good and evil in which their cosmology and society have been transformed. The twelve chapters cover Time, Space and Language; Basic Themes, Tonga Religious Vocabulary and its Referents; the Vocabulary of Shrines and Substance; Homestead and Bush; Ritual Communities and Actors; Rituals of the Life Course; Death and its Rituals; Evil and Witchcraft; and Christianity and Tonga Experience. The author has drawn on dairies by research assistants, and field notes and research of fellow anthropologists, but above all from her own interaction with Tonga people since 1946. The older people gave first hand memories of Ndebele and Lozi raids, David Linvingstone encamped near their villages in 1856 and 1862, the arrival of colonial administrators, traders, missionaries and European and Indian settlers, and in some cases, the end of colonial rule. Their experience and that of their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren provides the basis for understanding Tonga religious experience. Elizabeth Colson is an American anthropologist who is widely published on the Tonga. Her research interests have particularly concentrated on the Gwembe Valley.

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The Tongue is Fire

South African Storytellers and Apartheid

Harold E. Scheub

     In the years between the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 and the Soweto Uprising of 1976—a period that was both the height of the apartheid system in South Africa and, in retrospect, the beginning of its end—Harold Scheub went to Africa to collect stories.
     With tape-recorder and camera in hand, Scheub registered the testaments of Swati, Xhosa, Ndebele, and Zulu storytellers, farming people who lived in the remote reaches of rural South Africa. While young people fought in the streets of Soweto and South African writers made the world aware of apartheid’s evils, the rural storytellers resisted apartheid in their own way, using myth and metaphor to preserve their traditions and confront their oppressors. For more than 20 years, Scheub kept the promise he made to the storytellers to publish his translations of their stories only when freedom came to South Africa. The Tongue Is Fire  presents these voices of South African oral tradition—the historians, the poets, the epic-performers, the myth-makers—documenting their enduring faith in the power of the word to sustain tradition in the face of determined efforts to distort or eliminate it. These texts are a tribute to the storytellers who have always, in periods of crisis, exercised their art to inspire their own people.

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The Unbearable Whiteness of Being

Farmersí Voices from Zimbabwe

The history of colonial land alienation, the grievances fuelling the liberation war, and post-independence land reforms have all been grist to the mill of recent scholarship on Zimbabwe. Yet for all that the countryís white farmers have received considerable attention from academics and journalists, the fact that they have always played a dynamic role in cataloguing and representing their own affairs has gone unremarked. It is this crucial dimension that Rory Pilossof explores in The Unbearable Whiteness of Being. His examination of farmersí voices ñ in The Farmer magazine, in memoirs, and in recent interviews ñ reveals continuities as well as breaks in their relationships with land, belonging and race. His focus on the Liberation War, Operation Gukurahundi and the post-2000 land invasions frames a nuanced understanding of how white farmers engaged with the land and its peoples, and the political changes of the past 40 years. The Unbearable Whiteness of Being helps to explain why many of the events in the countryside unfolded in the ways they did.

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The Uncoiling Python

South African Storytellers and Resistance

Harold Scheub

The oral and written traditions of the Africans of South Africa have provided an understanding of their past and the way the past relates to the present. These traditions continue to shape the past by the present, and vice versa. From the time colonial forces first came to the region in 1487, oral and written traditions have been a bulwark against what became 350 years of colonial rule, characterized by the racist policies of apartheid. The Uncoiling Python: South African Storytellers and Resistance is the first in-depth study of how Africans used oral traditions as a means of survival against European domination.

Africans resisted colonial rule from the beginning. They participated in open insurrections and other subversive activities in order to withstand the daily humiliations of colonial rule. Perhaps the most effective and least apparent expression of subversion was through indigenous storytelling and poetic traditions. Harold Scheub has collected the stories and poetry of the Xhosa, Zulu, Swati, and Ndebele peoples to present a fascinating analysis of how the apparently harmless tellers of tales and creators of poetry acted as front-line soldiers.

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Visions of Freedom

Havana, Washington, Pretoria, and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991

Piero Gleijeses

During the final fifteen years of the Cold War, southern Africa underwent a period of upheaval, with dramatic twists and turns in relations between the superpowers. Americans, Cubans, Soviets, and Africans fought over the future of Angola, where tens of thousands of Cuban soldiers were stationed, and over the decolonization of Namibia, Africa's last colony. Beyond lay the great prize: South Africa. Piero Gleijeses uses archival sources, particularly from the United States, South Africa, and the closed Cuban archives, to provide an unprecedented international history of this important theater of the late Cold War.
These sources all point to one conclusion: by humiliating the United States and defying the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro changed the course of history in southern Africa. It was Cuba's victory in Angola in 1988 that forced Pretoria to set Namibia free and helped break the back of apartheid South Africa. In the words of Nelson Mandela, the Cubans "destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor . . . [and] inspired the fighting masses of South Africa."

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