Magazine article Foreign Affairs

Recent Books: Africa: South Africa: Settler Colonialism and the Failures of Liberal Democracy

Magazine article Foreign Affairs

Recent Books: Africa: South Africa: Settler Colonialism and the Failures of Liberal Democracy

Article excerpt

Recent Books: Africa: South Africa: Settler Colonialism and the Failures of Liberal Democracy BY THIVEN REDDY. Zed Books, 2015, 192 pp.

South Africa's Insurgent Citizens: On Dissent and the Possibility of Politics BY JULIAN BROWN. Zed Books, 2015, 176 pp.

In these books, two South African academics examine their country's increasingly contentious politics. The optimism inspired by the release of Nelson Mandela from prison a quarter of a century ago and the end of apartheid soon after has been replaced by a deep sense of foreboding. Increasing corruption, persistently high levels of violent crime, and an unsteady economy have lent South Africa the distinction of being both the slowest-growing country in sub-Saharan Africa that is not engaged in a civil war and the country with the region's highest level of income inequality.

Reddy's study is the more ambitious of the two. Harnessing sophisticated scholarly literature on the subject, he argues that South Africa's past as a settler colony ruled for decades by authoritarian white supremacists has made its transition to liberal democracy particularly difficult. Oppressed for so long by systematic violence at the hands of the white-ruled state, the black majority is divided into two parts: a nationalist bourgeoisie intent on enriching itself and an alienated lower class that has been ill served by the transition to democracy. Reddy goes beyond pessimism: he sees the country's future as bleak and offers no better way forward. …

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