Book Review: A Traveller’s History Of South Africa

A Traveller’s History Of South Africa, by David Mason

In reading a book like this it is deeply unfortunate that the author appears to have bought into the belief that South Africa is some sort of paradisical realm in the aftermath of apartheid.  The author seems to think that while the Boers were terrible racists that everything is hunky-dory in the aftermath of its end.  This obviously slants the way the author approaches the book, as apartheid seems less like a paranoid if reasonable approach to a demographic problem than a totally unjust decision, and that lack of sympathy for the problems of the Afrikaaner population does make this book a bit more difficult to enjoy.  As is the case often with this sort of book, there is a heavy bias towards more contemporary history and the history of South Africa in general is highly colored as well to discuss matters of interest to contemporary grievance theorists rather than a more even-handed approach.  The author finds the struggles of the UK to govern South Africa on the cheap to be entertaining, for example, and tends to enjoy insulting the intelligence and education of the trekkers of the Boer in a way that he would not think to do when it came to the African population.

This book is almost 300 pages long and is divided into nine chapters and various other materials.  The book begins with an introduction that shows the author’s thesis that South Africa is one nation with many cultures, and then discusses the land, state, and people of the “Rainbow Nation” of South Africa (1).  After that there is a look at the earliest times and indigenous “civilization” up to 1500, which seems odd given that there were no cities to be found in the region (2), as well as the colonization of South Africa by the Dutch and their allies (3).  The author discusses the conflicts of the first two thirds or so of the 19th century (4), as well as the diamonds, gold, and war that marked the rest of the century (5).  This is followed by a discussion of unification and segregation (6), and the rise (7), and demise (8) of apartheid.  The book then ends with a too glowing account of truth and reconciliation (9), after which there is a list of abbreviations, a chronology of major events, estimated population at the time of writing, heads of state, public holidays, suggestions for further reading, a historical gazetteer, as well as an index.

In reading this book I was struck by the fact that the author seemed not to realize that his casual anti-white racism in so much of his approach seemed tailor-made to irritate a large amount of his potential audience.  In general it can be said that a lot of books take a leftist approach to history, but what is perhaps less often realized is that a great many readers and reviewers of works are not sympathetic to such a strident approach and so an author can very easily alienate an audience by refusing to keep personal political opinions restrained.  Having a healthy respect for the different worldviews of one’s audience helps keep one from writing books like this one.  There is, to be sure, much of interest that one can write about South Africa, but if one does so without a sense of fairness and balance in one’s approach, it seems like a book like this is only going to appeal to black tourists or fellow leftist travelers and that certainly reduces the potential appreciative audience that a book can have to a degree that makes it hard to appreciate the author’s skill because his views get in the way.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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