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Rhetoric & Public Affairs 5.4 (2002) 775-779
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An African Athens: Rhetoric and the Shaping of Democracy in South Africa. By Philippe-Joseph Salazar. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002; pp xx + 226. $59.95.
In An African Athens, Philippe-Joseph Salazar draws on his over 20 years of experience in South Africa to argue that post-apartheid South Africa is a "postmodern rhetorical democracy" (xix). By "postmodern," Salazar is referring to the way that democracy in South Africa is re-created every day through the public and private deliberations of the populace. Not a history of democratic rhetoric, An African Athens is a work of rhetorical criticism, analyzing a wide variety of texts in terms of [End Page 775] how they discursively construct the "political ecology" of post-apartheid democratic rhetoric (xvii).
The book is composed of eight chapters and a conclusion, each of which centers on a different arena in which, Salazar argues, democracy is reinvented every day through deliberative means. In these chapters, the author moves from political oratory to written forms of rhetoric (constitutional deliberation) and to multimodal/multimedia rhetorics (visual rhetoric), deftly combining analyses of speeches with examinations of the rhetoric of visual texts, textual design, and other instances of what he characterizes as public deliberation.
The first chapter addresses Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose religious oratory forms the foundation (or "frame," as Salazar calls it) for building a new inclusive nation that would even include those who have previously excluded others (2). Tutu uses the commonplaces of shalom (peace) and koinonia (unity), drawing on St. John's vision in the Book of Revelation where "every tribe, nation, and language" can come together in peace. Salazar shows how Tutu used the discourses of Old Testament prophecy and New Testament prophecy-fulfillment to speak to the building of a unified South African nation and how his audience assented to these discourses and to his vision/teaching of a new nation. Tutu seized appropriate points in ritualized moments (such as funeral orations) to "re-member" the nation that had been dismembered by apartheid. As Salazar comments, it is especially interesting how Tutu's oratory contributed to the establishment of a "postmodern democracy" whose "public deliberative world view" relied in large measure on "a set of religious arguments regarding the nation" (16).
Chapter 2 moves on to analyze Nelson Mandela's first and last speeches as president of South Africa. It details how Mandela, as the first president of a unified South Africa (where the nation and state have finally come together), uses his first parliamentary address (May 24, 1994) and his last one (in 1999) to "perform the nation in a way that makes her appear to herself united yet diverse" (31). His first speech uses a poem by an Afrikaans poet to move the nation from a status as pseudos ("the false South African nation of separateness" ) to plasma (a fictional yet possible scenario of a united nation) and toward historia (the final realization of this scenario) (26). Particularly interesting is how Mandela's May 24th speech begins with reference to a future time when the descendents of the present generation will look back on the sacrifices of those who worked to end apartheid and build a new nation.
Salazar begins chapter 3 with a reflection on the dangers of presidential rhetoric. He argues that in a democracy, after "the founding moment," the president's "singular voice must then retreat before the sovereign's diverse polyphony, democratic deliberation at its best" (33). Salazar shows that Mandela as the "executive persona" used a "turnstile rhetoric" to draw the people's praise by praising the people (35). The praise of the executive (the people's servant) thus is an exercise in the rehearsal [End Page 776] of communal values. Salazar then turns to the rise of the black middle class and its relationship to the rhetoric of an African Renaissance. The rhetoric of the African Renaissance, which was "a call to 'consensus'" according to Salazar (47), is shown in two examples: a booklet...