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North went to South Africa in 1978, thinking that apartheid was like segregation in the pre-1960s American South--and his impressionistic report of what he found in the ensuing four-and-a-half years might wise-up others who haven't read Alan Paton, Nadine Gordimer, or much of anyone else. To his credit, North did get about and buck the system: hitching a ride with ""one of the last white truck drivers,"" he heard the man disparage black drivers and yet warmly greet each one on the road; spending time with underground contacts in Soweto, he saw not only the abysmal living conditions, the humiliation and degradation, but also the militants' internal conflict--to flee into exile, or stay and fight. He gets off some barbed remarks at the English-speaking whites, presumed to be more ""liberal"": they may object to ""petty apartheid"" (everday discrimination), but they don't protest the Bantustan or migrant-labor policies (whereby blacks are forcibly removed to ""tribal homelands,"" and men spend all but brief vacations away from their families, as miners or other contract-workers). Among the slightly privileged Coloured and Indian populations, he encountered both contempt for blacks and affinity with them. Some English-speaking and Afrikaner whites were genuinely opposed to apartheid. Both black and white activists expect a violent upheaval. This is not news, nor is it insightful: the whites, North conjectures, must feel guilty; the Afrikaners must feel extra-guilty because of their previous mistreatment by the English-speaking--maybe that's why they're ""confused,"" ""paradoxical,"" ""schizoid."" (For the white mentality, see rather Vincent Crapanzano's Waiting, above.) Somewhat fresher and livelier is North's reportage of the black soccer-craze--though here too the interpretation is lame (blacks are allowed few leisure activities, few heroes, little ""assertion""--as if there weren't, say, British sports-riots). His best material--thematically and dramatically of-a-piece--comes from neighboring Rhodesia/Zimbabwe: the transformation of a single village in one year of black-""reconciliation"" rule. Ian Smith's supplanting by a magnanimous Robert Mugabe is a story that bears repeated telling--but it's problematic as a ""challenge"" to South African apartheid. North concludes with a sketchy, generally celebratory assessment of the African National Congress (and other, lesser black forces) and a rebuttal of pro-US-investment arguments. His heart is in the right place, and he put his body on the line--he's just not a particularly effective writer, nor does he have anything especially striking to say.

Pub Date: March 26th, 1985
Publisher: Macmillan