Book Review: Apartheid: A History

Apartheid:  A History, by Brian Lapping

This particular book is about an obviously delicate subject, namely the system of racial segregation and superiority that was set up by the Dutch starting in the 1940’s when the South African legislature began to be dominated by a particularly white nationalist party.  What this book does in addressing the subject of apartheid is that it manages to condemn the practice without being too harsh on white South Africans and by recognizing the legitimacy of Afrikaaners as key elements to the success of South Africa.  It is hard for some people to express hatred for racism without being racists themselves against other racists, a problem that is not too difficult to find in such works.  Similarly, it is hard for many people to recognize the way that racism tends to be most virulent among those for whom racial identity is a key means of providing positive self-image, a problem that can be seen from any variety of backgrounds.  Those who have enough other positive sources of identity need not harp on race so much, but for those who have little else, racial identity is of extreme importance and that was sadly the case for many white South Africans in the postwar period.

This particular book is almost 200 pages long and is divided into fifteen chapters.  The author begins with a list of maps, illustrations, acknowledgements, an introduction, and some tables on the population of South Africa.  After that the author discusses the history of South Africa beginning with the arrival of the whites (1), the Great Trek to avoid British domination (2), the presence of diamonds and gold that made controlling the Boer republics a “vital” British imperial interest (3), and the Boer war and its aftermath (4).  This leads to a discussion of the parallel nationalist movements of the Afrikaaners (5) as well as the blacks (6), in the period from 1910 to the 1930’s, as well as two leaders in the 1930’s (7).  The author discusses the by-products of World War II (8), the end of acquiescence (9), and the struggles of the apartheid election (10) from 1946 to 1948.  After that the author discusses the Afrikaaner search for baaskap over the English and blacks (11), the defiance of blacks (12), the establishment of nominally free bantustans (13), the police state (14), and the author’s correct understanding of the beginning of the end of the Apartheid state (15) in the face of international disapproval, after which there is a book list and an index.

One thing that is notably striking that applies not only to South Africa but to other areas where ethnic tensions are high (including the United States) is that liberalism is a luxury that can only be enjoyed by those who are comfortable in other forms of superiority that they feel over others, be it intellectual, economic, or moral.  Those who feel themselves to be threatened by the elevation of others and for whom their ethnic identity and cultural pride is of vital importance in providing for a positive self image are less able to be tolerant about having their social position eroded.  Coming from a poor rural white American background myself, I can greatly understand the sort of insecurities that drove the average Afrikaaner to be increasingly more hostile to blacks in the aftermath of the Boer War, World War I, and World War II, especially in the face of British snobbery.  As someone who can relate to the Boers and to their desire to preserve a position of social dominance in the face of demographic and social threats, I feel it is deeply unfortunate that their solution was so ill suited to maintain their dignity for the long run, even if they do not come from ground terribly different from my own.

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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