Book Review: The History Of South Africa (Greenwood Histories)

The History Of South Africa (The Greenwood Histories Of The Modern Nations), by Roger B. Beck

If it cannot be said that the reading of the history of South Africa is a pleasant matter, this book at least is a reasonably pleasant and brief discussion of that history, going back from ancient history to the turn of the twenty-first century and allowing at least some way for the various issues and struggles of South Africa’s history that have been characteristic over the past few centuries to be handled thoughtfully.  The author certainly provides plenty of discussion as to the arrival of first the Bantu and then the Boers into the region, which allows the reader the chance to ponder upon who, if anyone, can be said to have original land claims for the territory in the contemporary period, and ponder the relationship between politics, demography, and power and how fears and longings have long been a strong influence on how it is that people behaved in South Africa, with possible implications for other settler colonies where similar factors may be at work.  All of this may not be fun to think about, but it certainly makes a book like this worth reading as a way of better understanding not only South Africa and its people but also a great deal else besides.

This book is a bit more than 200 pages and is divided into 10 chapters with a strong sense of chronological snobbery in terms of the development of the material.  This book begins with a series foreword, a preface, a timeline of historical events, as well as a list of abbreviations to be found in the book.  After tat the author discusses South Africa today (1), or at least about twenty years ago.  A chapter is then devoted to the entire prehistory of South Africa between 4 million BC and 1488AD, with the arrival of the Portuguese (2).  After that there is an exploration of the European settlement of the Cape region (3) and British rule over the area from the Napoleonic Wars to 1870 (4).  The author explores the relationship between African States, the Afrikaners, and British imperialism from 1770-1870 (5), somewhat parallel to the previous chapter, and then the British Imperial age up to 1910 (6).  The next three chapters of the book serve as a discussion of apartheid, with a discussion of white union and black segregation in the lead-up to apartheid (7), the apartheid years (8), and the decline of white domination in the face of internal dissension and external disapproval (9), as well as a look at the Mandela years from 1994-1999 (10), after which there is a discussion of notable people in South African history, a glossary, a bibliographical essay, and an index.

One wonders what this book would be like if it was updated to reflect the period after Apartheid.  This particular book has somewhat of a teleological person, examining the period of apartheid in light of its end, but what happens when it is over?  The author seems to suggest that the ending of the racial superiority of the Boer will have positive affects on the well-being of blacks, but how much responsibility is being placed on them as to earning their own well-being through acquiring a good education, avoiding sexual promiscuity, and building the habits of hard and smart work.  Justice is by no means an easy thing for mankind to attain, and it is even more difficult to prosper justly in such a way that one does not depend on grift and corruption in order to find a better future, for there are few people who have the connections to make such elite status possible to attain.  And yet many societies, including perhaps South Africa’s, lack the broad byways to bring people into a better place after having provided them with the tools to thrive.

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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