An Ordinary Country: Issues in the Transition from Apartheid to Democracy in South Africa

An Ordinary Country: Issues in the Transition from Apartheid to Democracy in South Africa

An Ordinary Country: Issues in the Transition from Apartheid to Democracy in South Africa

An Ordinary Country: Issues in the Transition from Apartheid to Democracy in South Africa

Synopsis

Disputing the notion of a 'miracle' transition in South Africa, the author argues that the new South Africa had to happen as it did because of the socio-historical make-up of the country and the leading players involved. He identifies and explains some of the turning points at which critical choices were made by local and international forces. Alexander, a former leading political activist and commentator who spent time on Robben Island, goes beyond what he calls 'the effervescence of parliamentary debate and grandstanding' and explores a range of issues in post-apartheid South Africa including national identity and the rainbow nation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the role and status of language, showing the volatility, the tentativeness,and the fluidity of the evolving situation.

Neville Alexander teaches at the Faculty of Humanities, University of Cape Town

Excerpt

There is a fear that the demands of a modern state, itself subject to powerful
global forces, might overwhelm the project of emancipation.

Njabulo Ndebele (2000)

THE NEW SOUTH AFRICA has been in existence for eight years already. There is no doubt that the attainment of a liberal democratic dispensation in the land of apartheid was one of the most significant events of the twentieth century. Among other things, it demarcated a milestone in the history of the struggle against colonialism and racism and for the broadening of democracy throughout the world. As such, it is an event that will generate a diverse and numerous literature ranging from 'neutral' chronicles at one end of the spectrum to novels and poetry at the other.

Against the background of the marginalisation of the African continent from the mainstream of contemporary world history, it is understandable that much of the literature on post-apartheid South Africa focuses on what has been called 'the miracle of South Africa'. However, it is precisely because of this apparent exceptionalism that it is necessary to scrutinise the claim that in South Africa there is a real chance to break the chains of Third World penury. Are we dealing with a miracle or a mirage? Is it indeed helpful to pose the issue in this either/or fashion? The basic thesis of this book is that in South Africa after the abolition of apartheid as a system of laws and social, political and economic institutions and practices based on the concept of 'race', we are in fact dealing with a very ordinary country, one which has come very late to the table of the comity of nations.

It is tempting to tell the story of South Africa from its earliest beginnings, that is, from the time when it was apparently the cradle of human intelligence, up to the present when we are locked in what I can only label as superstitious debates about what causes Aids. This is a story which, for . . .

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