- The Making of Modern South Africa: Conquest, Apartheid, Democracy, and: Nelson Mandela: A Biography
Given the stereotypes on Africa pervasive in U.S. culture, scholarship on Africa ought not be confined to "experts" or specialists in the field. In different ways, the two books under review remind us of the importance of making African topics accessible to younger readers—and of the different approaches to that goal. Written by a high school teacher of thirty-four years experience teaching in Kenya and the U.S., this review considers two recent works on South Africa intended for high school students.
Worden's book is, indeed, an intelligent one-volume history of South Africa. The tripartite subtitle, "Conquest, Apartheid, Democracy," reveals the conceptual organization of the content. The introduction alerts readers to the focus and the bias of the book, although I'm not so sure that the general reader needs to know about the travails of the historiography of South Africa. Similarly the general reader might long for as much political history as economic history. What this reader will appreciate is the focus and conciseness of the opening and closing paragraphs of the individual chapters and subsections. The writing is clear, the arguments cogent. A student of African history will find The Making of Modern South Africa a handy volume—although more information on the Mandela and Mbeki presidencies would be helpful.
Nonetheless, this could be challenging for the more general reader outside of South Africa. Historiography can be confusing, and the economic approach of this work may seem divergent from the chronological narrative. The author's reliance on a reader's knowledge of the terminology of South African geography and anthropology may make this difficult [End Page 188] for U.S. readers. Compounding the confusion is the book's extensive use of acronyms and the intrusion of academic citation protocols. The "Outline Chronology" has the British establishing control before any statement of the British arriving, and the Zulu expanding before cohering. The maps are not helpful to the general reader; they do not elucidate the text and often show irrelevant data. Worden's book is not the only victim of the inability of editors to review a chapter and then construct a map illustrating locations important to the chapter; apparently it is easier and cheaper to use someone else's map. Brief annotations for the "Suggestions for Further Reading" section also would have been useful A general reader will appreciate the authority of Worden's book but will wish that greater prominence had been given to the visuals—as in J. D. Omer-Cooper's History of Southern Africa (Heinemann, 1987), for example.
Peter Limb's biography of Nelson Mandela is a delightful read. The writing is direct, authoritative, and clear. The chapters give a comprehensive view of Mandiba's life, both political and personal, and in the process they add up to a fine history of twentieth-century South Africa. The documentation is unburdened by cumbersome attributions and acronyms, and the chapter notes are sufficiently annotated to inspire further reading and to make it purposeful. The inclusion of direct quotations from Mandela's writing is effective. Limb's chapters begin with a general historical context and end with a review, often somewhat unabashedly rousing but never inaccurate.
Limb does not ignore the various activities of Mandela or the legislation of apartheid that created a set of political circumstances just waiting for someone to accept the mantle of leadership. He makes it clear that Mandela possesses a personal charisma that is alternately patrician and democratic but always effective. Rarely does a leader retire with such accomplishment and recognition. Jimmy Carter grew into his international role; Mandela found that he couldn't remove himself from his.
This volume is part of a series of biographies addressed to...