Book Review: After Freedom: The Rise Of The Post-Apartheid Generation In South Africa

After Freedom: The Rise Of The Post-Apartheid Generation In South Africa, by Katherine S. Newman and Ariane De Lannoy

Like many who have written on the recent history of South Africa [1], the authors come away from their story with a strong sense of unease about the way in which the hope and promise of a “post-racial” South Africa has been squandered in the face of political apathy by a generation that feels itself robbed of the promises of advancement that they felt their due. Given the issues of political corruption and the decline of safety and the collapse of education and infrastructure in South Africa, the authors see a great deal of insecurity even among those who have been well-equipped through their education and family connections in contemporary South Africa. For those who lacked such benefits, there has been a rising sense of frustration with a lack of progress and an inability for an economy to provide jobs for those who want to work but are unable to find it, and those are a huge portion of the South African population, a worrisome level it must be admitted. This book tells the stories of a variety of people in South Africa and explores the shared frustration with the way things are as well as with the wide gulf between how some of them have fared as opposed to others, and the troublesome nature of the nation that they share.

This book is a bit less than 250 pages long and is divided into ten chapters that focus on various themes that are present in the lives of the people interviewed and studied by the authors, all of whose names have been changed, presumably so that they do not suffer repercussions for sharing information with the researchers. The authors begin with a preface that explains the germ of their idea for this project, before an introductory chapter that discusses the people that this book is about (1). After that the author looks at the legacies of apartheid explored from various perspectives (2) as well as the struggle for one of the women in particular to find work (3) and keep her mental health going. The author explores the dilemma faced by successful blacks who are viewed as being coconuts for being white on the inside (4) as well as the way that coloureds have been forgotten in post-apartheid South Africa (5). The authors look at the other side of the coloured divide at those who are doing well (6), discuss the question of how it is that people deal with the past, being wrong but the past (7), as well as the movements and migrations to Cape Town and other cities and outside of South Africa and back (8), before the authors discuss the political anger of many of the people in the book (9) as well as the sad state of South Africa after freedom (10). The book ends with a note on terms and methods, acknowledgements, notes, works cited, and an index.

The authors are clearly cosmopolitan and “liberal” Westerners whose research was inspired and influenced by previous looks at societies struggling with deep racial divides, like the American South in the first half of the 20th century. That said, the authors note that there were indeed great differences between the American South of the 1930’s and contemporary South Africa. For one, the education system of the United States was better than that of South Africa, and there were a lot more jobs available as well in a society moving out of the Great Depression and facing the expansion that comes from war and then consumer-driven demand than is the case for a post-industrial South Africa that struggles to find enough to do for its people in the face of massive mistrust and insecurity in the stability of small businesses and the atmosphere they work in. And if the authors, who are not inclined to be particularly pessimistic about a society they want to see succeed, are so downcast about South Africa’s glacial progress towards widespread well-being, the reader can scarcely be more optimistic about such matters.

[1] See, for example:

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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