A first draft of the history of Jacob Zuma’s South Africa.
The publicity machine for Foster’s (Journalism/Northwestern Univ.) extensive tome on contemporary South Africa would have you believe that the author presents “a long-awaited revisionist account of a country whose recent history has not just been neglected but largely ignored by the west.” (Readers might rightly wonder how one can write revisionism of a history that has been largely ignored.) Foster has been traveling to South Africa regularly since 2004, and the extent of his legwork is unquestionable. He organizes his chapters loosely around various themes and individuals that allow him to explore the nature of South Africa’s democracy. In 2007, the African National Congress chose to remove Thabo Mbeki from the party presidency, replacing him with Zuma. While Foster tells this important story well, there is extensive literature about South Africa in the post-apartheid period, as Foster’s own far-from-complete bibliography makes clear. A good deal of the writing on the country has either come from Western academics and journalists or has otherwise been readily available in the United States and Europe. Furthermore, Foster’s subtitle is misleading, as he provides less a complete overview and assessment of post-apartheid South Africa than he does of the period since 2004. While the book’s promise and originality might be overstated, Foster’s journalistic chops are not. The author was obviously fantastic at cultivating contacts, and he draws insightful observations from the hundreds of people he interviewed and those he encountered in passing. He proved to be especially good at connecting with young people and drawing on their astute observations about the country they have inherited. Unfortunately, the author inserts himself on nearly every page, constantly reminding us that he was there.
A mostly trenchant book that oversells its contribution.