Friday, November 19, 2010

SOUTH AFRICA'S BRAVE NEW WORLD in the Wall Street Journal

Today's Wall Street Journal features an excellent overview of our new book from R.W. Johnson, SOUTH AFRICA'S BRAVE NEW WORLD: THE BELOVED COUNTRY SINCE THE END OF APARTHEID. How has South Africa changed since Nelson Mandela's election? And after the 2010 World Cup, have Americans lost interest in the nation?

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, or scroll down for an excerpt.

Good Hope in Bad Trouble 'If we didn't dine with thugs and crooks,' says one South African leader, 'then we'd always eat alone.' By GRAEME WOOD

Trevor Manuel, the South African finance minister from 1996 to 2009, got his job when the aging Nelson Mandela asked, at a cabinet meeting, who was a good economist. Mr. Manuel raised his hand thinking Mr. Mandela had asked who was "a good communist." Mr. Manuel served his country ably. But the appointment of the sole competent minister in the first government of African National Congress was a matter of blind luck.

This will hardly come as a surprise to anyone who has followed R.W. Johnson's reporting. The South Africa correspondent for the (London) Sunday Times and a frequent contributor to the London Review of Books, Mr. Johnson has been a prolific critic of the ANC's 16-year tenure in power. "South Africa's Brave New World," his political history of the post- apartheid era, amounts to a book-length indictment of the ANC. Its leaders come through as so corrupt, lecherous and violent that governance is not even an afterthought. "If we didn't dine with thugs and crooks," says one to Mr. Johnson, "then we'd always eat alone." The book is a catalog of sins and rumors (footnoted, though often attributed to private sources or, for example, "old girlfriends" of ANC members). It is big and disorganized but filled with credible gossip—like the Trevor Manuel story—and therefore a delight.

Sixteen years is longer than any honeymoon should last, and it is past time that a book as unrelentingly negative as Mr. Johnson's emerged to correct for the optimism lavished on South Africa's rainbow nation following the collapse of apartheid in 1993. In Mr. Johnson's view, the ANC turned South Africa into a giant kleptocracy run by thugs who would gladly sell their people back into serfdom as long as the price was right.

A self-described liberal who "cheered on" the wave of African nationalism of the postwar era, Mr. Johnson now sees the black supremacist ANC as the third in a trilogy of nationalisms (the first two were British and Afrikaner) that have ravaged South Africa. He is nostalgic for the economic growth of the apartheid era; the country was run by hardscrabble racists who built nuclear weapons, but they increased everyone's standard of living.

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