South Africa at Ten: Readings on Postapartheid South Africa

By Muiu, Mueni wa | African Studies Review, December 2004 | Go to article overview

South Africa at Ten: Readings on Postapartheid South Africa


Muiu, Mueni wa, African Studies Review


SOUTH AFRICA AT TEN: READINGS ON POSTAPARTHEID SOUTH AFRICA

Fred Hendricks. Fault-Lines in South African Democracy: Continuing Crises of Inequality and Injustice. Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, 2003. Discussion Paper 22. 32 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Price not reported. Paper.

Terry Bell, with Dumisa Buhle Ntsebeza. Unfinished Business: South Africa, Apartheid and Truth. London: Verso, 2003. 385 pp. Sources. Index. $26.00. Cloth.

Sample Terreblanche. A History of Inequality in South Africa 1652-2002. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 2002. 527 pp. Appendix. Sources. Index. $43.95. Paper.

Allister Sparks. Beyond the Miracle: Inside the New South Africa. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball Publishers/Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. 370 pp. Notes. Index. R.169.95/$32.50. Cloth.

Hermann Gilliomee. The Afrikaners: Biography of A People. Charlottesville. University Press of Virginia, 2003. 560 pp. Bibliography. Index. $39.95. Paper.

After the excitement and euphoria that followed South Africa's transition to multiparty and multiracial democracy in the early 1990s, and following the transfer of power from the larger-than-life Nelson Mandela to the down-to-earth Thabo Mbeki, the time has come for a sober and realistic assessment of the new South Africa at ten and to look at the other face of the "miracle." This review includes a number of authors and works that do precisely that.

It is not often that we come across a work that reveals the complexities involved in South Africa's liberal democracy as vividly and concisely as Fred Hendricks's Fault-lines in South African Democracy. Based on a lecture Hendricks gave at the Nordic Africa Institute, the book focuses on two issues: the inequality and injustice inherited from the apartheid regime. His major concern is how historic compromises made during the negotiations for a new South Africa between the African National Congress and the National Party have affected the administration of justice. He argues that in spite of the political transition, inequalities between Africans and whites have continued to grow. Racism is so "embedded in South African society," he declares, "that its reversal requires an all-encompassing state-directed approach" (9).

According to Hendricks, the emphasis of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on forgiving wrongdoers in order to legitimize the new state allowed class inequalities to continue. As a result, the new government has been unable to tackle the problem. Furthermore, its land reform efforts have been dismal, with only 1 percent of the land returned to the rightful owners. According to the rhetoric, reconciliation was supposed to develop from the truth; however, when the truth lies hidden under so many crimes for which the senior perpetrators are not prosecuted, it is difficult, Hendricks notes, to achieve lasting peace. He discusses the Amnesty Committee, in which perpetrators were forgiven if they acted on the orders of a public organization, not for personal gain, and without any knowledge of the victims. Once perpetrators appeared in front of the TRC, they could not be prosecuted in a criminal court. As a result, "Amnesty sends a message to future state criminals that there is the chance that they may be exonerated, especially if they remain in power long enough to ensure that they are not easily dislodged, or that some compromise may be necessary to remove them from power" (25). Such an attitude puts democracy in jeopardy. Hendricks concludes that as long as the society is structured along a cleavage between poor and rich, the chances for reconciliation are very slim.

What Hendricks calls "fault-lines" become "unfinished business" to Terry Bell and Dumisa Buhle Ntsebeza. Unfinished Business: South Africa, Apartheid and Truth draws on Ntsebeza's experience as a lawyer who represented apartheid's victims and subsequently participated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. …

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