- Africa South: viewpoints, 1956-1961
This is a good book. Go and buy it, and enjoy it. That, I think, is a big part of the function of a book review - is it worth my money or not? - and in this case, absolutely. And then go read the whole series - the original journal, of which this book presents a set of extracts - now available via www.disa.ukzn.ac.za. The book, to be clear, presents almost 60 essays or segments of essays culled from the 21 issues (and 460 essays) of the journal. If I take issue with anything in the book, it should be seen as a reflection of the quality of the original series of journals, because they are a treasure trove of literary output, sharp (and some somewhat more blunt) political thinking, cross-party-line jousting, and internationalist perspectives. The editors are offering us a teaser, which one can only hope will send readers to the www.disa archive and spend time reading the original, quite remarkable, Africa South.
This is also an odd book. Africa South and later Africa South in Exile were oddities themselves. I first read them when a history graduate student, and remember wondering what all the literary guff was about, why there were essays by Fenner Brockway or George W Shepherd, Margery Perham or Barbara Castle, and others who had nothing to say about South Africa and 'our' struggle. The cartoons I almost understood, the poetry (even by people such as Stanley Uys) seemed a waste of time, because I wanted more - more from the politicos, whether Meer or Mandela or Walter Sisulu or First or Forman or Eddie Roux or Alan Paton or Christopher Gell or Michael Harmel [End Page 155] and so on. They all write for Africa South, often with books emerging from their articles (Helen Joseph's If this be Treason an obvious example).
If you ever want an output-based who's who of the 1950s, Africa South is the place to go - anyone who was anyone wrote for it. And wrote well - the quality of the writing, not just the content (shocking and utterly painful as much of it still is today) is the stand-out factor.
Africa South was 'odd' - at least to a wannabe political hack in the 1980s - because Ronald Segal was odd - non-conformist, flamboyant, utterly charming, and classy. He came from a wealthy family, read tripos at Cambridge, and gave up a literary scholarship in the USA to come home and launch Africa South as his contribution to internationalism, which in his view had to underpin the South African struggle for democracy.
Segal was absolutely charming, and not averse to occasionally patching up history where it seemed to need it. Like the editors, I made the trek to his Walton-on-Thames house - at the rich end of Walton, near the river - and was beguiled by this rich and cultured man not only giving me hours of his time but making sure I left with a set of Africa South of my own. To the editors he paints a picture of himself as 'politically driven' but himself as having 'no standing' outside of the journal. The editors faithfully reproduce this not-quite-truth, stating that 'Segal himself chose to remain on the fringes of all politically organised resistance' - but they are absolutely right when they note that 'he knew ... that his flamboyant and gregarious individualism would not allow him easily to take direction from others'. Segal was, one suspects, genetically incapable of following any party line - and being rich, Jewish, bullied from an early age because his father's chauffeur-driven Chrysler would drop him at the local state school rather than SACS or Bishops only reinforced this tendency.
The not-quite-true part is that Segal was also a paid-up member of the Congress of Democrats - the white wing of the Congress Alliance - who (as he told me when I sat at his feet) was invited to address the 1958 Transvaal ANC Conference - not many...