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by John Carlin ; illustrated by Oriol Malet

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-87486-820-3
Publisher: Plough

A concise graphic narrative of secret negotiations that helped keep the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa from becoming even more of a bloodbath.

The heroism of Nelson Mandela has earned him international renown and respect. Veteran British journalist Carlin (Chase Your Shadow: The Trials of Oscar Pistorius, 2014, etc.), who served as South African correspondent through the era depicted here, tells the story from the perspective of the other protagonist, Constand Viljoen, the general who had formerly been Mandela’s chief antagonist. Viljoen was the military chief of apartheid South Africa; in his retirement, he continued to view Mandela as a communist and the enemy of white South Africa. Yet times were changing, and the general’s brother was changing with them, advancing the argument that patriotism required serving the best interests of all South Africans, black and white. Amid the democratic reforms and Mandela’s release from prison, it was clear that the black citizens had the numbers on their side while the armed white forces retained the firepower. Viljoen had entered his retirement feeling “powerless to stop my country descending into darkness and despair.” As the struggle between black and white intensified, white nationalists implored the general to unite their factional divisions: “You are a legend in the South African military; you are the only leader capable of uniting us into one force capable of stopping Mandela.” The general believed in this mission, but his brother served as an intermediary from Mandela to arrange a meeting, where the two felt mutual respect and forged a common goal, a peaceful resolution with a government that would provide representation for both black and white. When they went public with their views, both were denounced by radicals who wanted total victory for their side, but that cost in human life would have been devastating. The general served his president and called him “the greatest of men.” Though dialogue drives the narrative, the most striking art has the fewest words, as illustrator Malet provides some historical context for the negotiations.

A fascinating story with a tight focus, though the writing is closer to a comic book than a journalistic piece.