- The South Africa Reader: History, Culture, Politics ed. by Clifton Crais, Thomas V. McClendon
The South Africa Reader: History, Culture, Politics is a collection of over eighty primary and secondary sources divided into eight chapters that describe the complex history and culture of South Africa since the initial period of European contact at the end of the fifteenth century. Although the first Europeans to enter the area were the Portuguese, it was the Dutch and English merchants who arrived in the seventeenth century who had a more profound impact. The book’s editors, Clifton Crais, a Professor of History at Emory University, and Thomas V. McClendon, a Professor of History at Southwestern University, have put together a comprehensive narrative that describes early [End Page 206] colonial settlements, native descriptions of servitude, mining and farming practices, exploitation of native labor, native uprisings, the Boer War, the end of Apartheid, and efforts toward national reconciliation. Not only is it a collection addressing various eras and events, but it also provides a fundamental understanding of the country, a panorama over time presented through first-person recollections, commentaries, photographs, and graphics based on sources published primarily in Europe, South Africa, and the United States.
According to the editors, “Acknowledging the country’s diversity is essential for developing a deeper appreciation of its history, culture, and politics. Large areas of South Africa were similar to other parts of British colonial Africa” (p. 5). British colonial officials governed local African populations through a system of indirect rule that utilized the cooperation of traditional African chiefs and leaders. Other areas of South Africa, however, had a very different colonial experience, which was dramatically altered by the presence of large numbers of European settlers. For example, the Western Cape region prior to European colonization was settled by Khoesan-speaking peoples. According to the editors, “Europeans typically referred to these groups as either the Hottentots or the Bushmen, derogatory terms that also failed to appreciate the rich histories of both groups” (p. 5). The strategic position of Cape Town, augmented by the area’s fertile land, eventually led to the establishment of a small Dutch colony during the seventeenth century. The editors explain that this situation eventually led to the development of “new ethnicities,” such as the Afrikaners, who spoke a Dutch patois that came to be known as Afrikaans (p. 5). [End Page 207]
The editors have collected sources that should appeal to most university students. Most of the sources are free of academic jargon, insightful, and thoroughly engaging. Topics of interest to this reviewer included Mohandas Gandhi’s politicization based on his experiences in South Africa, the non-racialized messages of Nelson Mandela, the formation of the African National Congress (ANC), and Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. These politically-oriented sources are skillfully blended with descriptions of grassroots music and other forms of indigenous culture. Throughout the book, the editors provide a platform for many voices, such as natives, colonial settlers, agricultural workers, government employees, and political activists. Topics flow smoothly from one subject to the next. The South Africa Reader: History, Culture, Politics, part of The Latin American Readers series, is essential reading for university students wishing to become familiar with South Africa. The collection provides the groundwork necessary for both preliminary and advanced study. It offers a comprehensive and insightful picture of South African history, culture, and politics at an affordable price.