I've had several requests via e-mail for more information about the background to South Africa, apartheid and Nelson Mandela, following my recent articles. I put together a list of four worthwhile books for one correspondent, and I thought others might be interested in them. Here's what I said in my e-mail to him.
Here are four books that I highly recommend. Links are to their pages at Amazon.com.
1. 'Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa', by Martin Meredith. An excellent analysis of how the Union of South Africa came to be formed, why Boer mistrust of the British and their determination to dominate the Black tribes became so strong, and how the foundations of modern South Africa were laid.
2. 'My Traitor's Heart', by Rian Malan. The single best book by an Afrikaner about personal experience of apartheid and its consequences. 'Soul-searing' just about describes it. Invaluable and unforgettable. If you want to read only one book about South Africa under apartheid, make it this one.
3. Two books by Allister Sparks: 'The Mind Of South Africa' and 'Tomorrow Is Another Country'. The first is an historical look at what made South Africa what it became, and the second covers the last few years of apartheid and the negotiation process that led to democracy in 1994. They should be read with caution due to Sparks' left-wing bias, but they're nevertheless a worthwhile overview of the 'big picture' - better than almost any others I've found. He's written a third book, 'Beyond The Miracle: Inside The New South Africa', which I don't find as balanced or as good, but is nevertheless a valiant attempt to describe and analyze South Africa since 1994. Unfortunately, IMHO, he makes too many excuses for the corruption, nepotism and incompetence of the present government, blaming too much on the evils of the past.
If you read those four books, you should be well on your way to a better understanding of what happened in South Africa. The only one you might have trouble finding is 'The Mind Of South Africa', which is long out of print, but used copies are available. The other three are available in low-cost e-books, which helps.
Those of you wanting more information about how South Africa became what it is today, and why Nelson Mandela made such a difference there with his insistence on reconciliation, could do a lot worse than read those four books. They're intensely interesting - at least to me, who lived through the transition there.