DIAMONDS, GOLD AND WAR by Martin Meredith


The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa
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The unruly formation of South Africa, set to a backdrop of war over the country’s invaluable resources.

Meredith (The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair, 2005, etc.) plunders his expansive knowledge of the continent’s history once again for this examination of the genesis of current-day South Africa. A ten-page introduction sketches Britain’s contemptuous disinterest in the colony before the late 1800s; the main narrative opens in 1871, the year a fertile deposit of diamonds was discovered outside Cape Town. This triggered a hunt for further riches, and the region proved to be positively swimming in diamonds and gold. The author proceeds to take his readers on an epic journey into South African history stretching from 1871 to 1910 and revolving around the brutal, costly war that broke out between the British and the Boers, each side hungry for the riches springing from South African soil. Cecil Rhodes led the Brits, Paul Kruger the Boers; Meredith’s vivid depictions of these men and their activities lie at the story’s bloody heart. Rhodes is portrayed as a megalomaniac hell-bent on ruling over sizable portions of the globe. (His will contained instructions to extend British dominion throughout the world via a secret society he wished his successors to set up.) The author vibrantly captures the Brits’ disastrous misjudgment of Kruger as “an uneducated, ill-mannered peasant.” On the contrary, Meredith reveals, Kruger’s oafish persona masked a keen intelligence far greater than he was given credit for; acknowledging this is key to understanding the strong resistance the Boers were able to stage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. The author also covers a tremendous amount of ground beyond the battlefield before threading his various strands together to paint a fascinating picture of the Afrikaner nationalism that emerged from this turbulent period and eventually resulted in the formation of Apartheid.

No stone is left unturned in this dynamic analysis of an intriguing period in African history.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-58648-473-6
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2007


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