Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Clifton Crais and Thomas V. McClendon, Eds. 2014. the South Africa Reader: History, Culture, and Politics

Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Clifton Crais and Thomas V. McClendon, Eds. 2014. the South Africa Reader: History, Culture, and Politics

Article excerpt

Clifton Crais and Thomas V. McClendon, eds. 2014. The South Africa Reader: History, Culture, and Politics. Durham: Duke University Press. 605 pp.

Clifton Crais and Thomas McCledon have compiled a volume of well-selected texts describing various aspects of South African history, culture and politics. The reader is divided into eight chapters. The topics are more or less chronologically arranged, making it a history reader in which politics and culture play an important role. Instead of focusing on seminal academic texts as is common in the field, this reader includes materials drawn from a variety of sources: texts written by South Africans of all walks of life, speeches, legal texts, songs and prose. The majority of the texts describe personal views and experiences of particular encounters between European and African individuals, and groups in the various geographical, political and social spaces of what became the Union of South Africa in 1910 and the Republic of South Africa in 1961. In each chapter Crais and McClendon give a brief introduction to the theme, the selection of texts and the topics relevance for present-day South Africa. In addition, Crais and McClendon provide individual background information on each source. This in turn enables the reader to easily place each text into its context, and to conduct further reading and research.

The publication of the reader comes at a time when South Africans are celebrating twenty years of democracy. Across the country, South Africans are looking back at the events and developments of the last twenty years. The general feeling is that important achievements, particularly in the political realm, have been made but that many challenges remain. These challenges are predominantly of a socio-economic nature. Frequently, they are attributed to the policies of the apartheid era. From its inauguration, apartheid influenced almost every aspect of life in South Africa. "Apartheid and the Struggle for Freedom" (Chapter 6) and "From Soweto to Liberation" (Chapter 7) give various examples thereof. Even today its effects are still felt and continue to be an important element of the political discourse. Some of the key points of this discourse such as controversies surrounding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Nelson Mandela's successors Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, AIDS, and continuing poverty are discussed in the final chapter, "Transitions and Reconciliations."

The complex history of South Africa is more than apartheid. It has been shaped by encounters between European and African individuals and groups. Early encounters as described in Chapter 1, "African Worlds, African Voices," show how the first European settlers were often relying on the help of African individuals and groups. Over the course of time, the encounters were growing more violent as European settlers were trying to subject the various African groups. Diverse stories of this are recounted in Chapter 2 "Colonial Settlement, Slavery and Peonage." With the creation of the Union in 1910, more and more policies and laws were put in place to divide South African society. …

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