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Research in African Literatures 33.1 (2002) 180-181

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Book Review

South Africa Backdrop: An Historical Introduction for South African Literary and Cultural Studies

South Africa Backdrop: An Historical Introduction for South African Literary and Cultural Studies, by B. J. Worsfold. Lleida: Edicions de la Universitat de Lleida, 1999. 163 pp.

B. J. Worsfold has produced an invaluable, panoramic overview of the major historical, socioeonomic, and political events in South Africa, which enables readers to place in an appropriate context the literature they are studying. South African history is a daunting field, both for the specialist and the nonspecialist. Worsfold has blended an impressive array of sources, ranging from oral historiography, "classical" European/settler historiography, archeology, and sociology in a very readable form, an impressive achievement given the contested nature of South African historiography.

Worsfold summarizes, succinctly, the centrality of the land question in his opening chapter entitled "The First South Africans and 'Myths of Precedence'" and moves on to deal with "Black Resistance to White Territorial Expansion." The second chapter thus focuses on the Xhosa wars and the mfecane. The third highlights the entrenchment of white authority through links between black, independent churches, labor organizations, and nationalist movements. The fourth chronicles the struggles of "Black Leaders and Massed Protest against Apartheid," showing how, despite the white minority governments' endeavors to undermine, destroy, or neutralize black political activity, successive generations of black communities and leaders tried to address the issues of marginalization and exploitation. The brutal repression of legitimate black protests led to frequent changes in strategy among the oppressed, ranging from formal pleas to settler and British institutions, to protest marches and armed revolt. The Sharpeville massacre, the rise of the ANC, and Nelson Mandela; the suppression of black political activity; the defiant rise of Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement; and the machinations between Gatsha Buthelezi and Inkatha are discussed in detail. The tension between the younger and older generation is highlighted, particularly in chapter five, entitled "The Soweto Uprising, June 1976, and Its Aftermath," as well as the ANC's maneuvers to maintain a measure of control over the events that were unfolding in South Africa, despite the fact that many of its leaders were either incarcerated or in exile. Chapter six outlines "The Fall of Apartheid" and the role of the trade union movement, COSATU, in bringing the minority government to its knees. The book chronicles the events leading up to the release of Nelson Mandela and the attainment of independence under his leadership. The challenges [End Page 180] facing the new government and Mandela's successor, Thabo Mbeki, are also discussed.

Worsfold's analysis of the salient features of South African history enables the discerning reader to comprehend what was happening in South Africa at a given point in time. This is an important reference book for those unfamiliar with the background to important social South African issues/problems; and even the more informed readers benefit, as they do not have to consult a myriad of specialist texts. The chronology provided toward the end of the book, is particularly helpful, as are the bibliography and the list of useful websites.

This useful book will serve the interests of teachers and students alike, as the author notes in the preface:

The purpose of this "backdrop" for South Africa is to provide an historical context for readers of South African literatures and students of South African cultures. Without some idea of the events that have carved out the new South Africa over time, many of the literary constructs by writers from the various population groups that live there are not readily appreciated and understood. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that most of the literary works by South Africans have to do with the racial, social, and political aspects of their country [. . .].
The historical and literary study of South African society in which European colonialism underwent its final death throes provides a unique insight into democracy, justice, individual freedoms and human and civil rights. For this reason, the example of South...


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