If you’d read the opinion pages of the newspapers at the time Alec Russell was reporting on Africa for the Financial Times, you will have little use for this book.
The only novelty therein, is in how Russell weaves his opinion into the reports he, no doubt, had to revisit countless times for the purposes of compiling this book. There is little new, and Russell’s views are just like the ones that were bandied about before in their currency as news of the day.
To give purpose to the book, Russell had to have an ending. When it comes, it isn’t much of a sting in the tail, though.
How South Africa performed the miracle of carving out a Rainbow Nation out of the ashes of apartheid remains legendary, says Russell, “but that is the past”.
Like a true newspaperman, he seeks out a poem to advance his argument that present-day South Africa was “drinking too deeply from poisoned wells”.
Russell contends that if the country does not spring another miracle as it did when its rainbow of people united behind one flag, the country is on the path to ruin. He obviously either doesn’t think much of the tenacity of such dynamite in the opposition as Helen Zille and Patricia de Lille or he chooses to ignore them, lest they sully the neat and tight ending he’d intended for his book.
One thing going for South Africa is its potent pool of brains in the opposition benches. The “Zanufication” of the ANC – and by extension, the state, will happen over the proverbial dead bodies of the opposition.
“South Africa has defied the odds many times before and has a history of doing the right thing at the last minute. It has to hope it will do so again. Otherwise the fate of ZANU-PF awaits the ANC, and South Africa will – in a decade or so – find itself led by an ossified ruling party overseen by bickering apparatchiks presiding over a sclerotic dysfunctional state. The dreams of its becoming a beacon for the continent will lie in the dust.” – p.277
In his extensive travels throughout the country, Russell should have taken in as wide a variety of views as possible. This exercise would have served well to inform him that people still believed that your past informs your future. Telling apartheid victims to “stop living in the past” is an insult worse than chiding those who want to remember the Holocaust.
As a newspaper article, this offering would no doubt have solicited a flurry of responses from all quarters and the distinction of voices alone, no doubt along racial lines, would have woken Russell up to the reality of South Africa.
He read widely, interviewed and was in conversation with a large variety of people for the articles that made up the book. Among his subjects was former president Thabo Mbeki who, as Richard Stengel was allowed with Nelson Mandela, spent many hours speaking to and texting Russell.
But there are no prizes for guessing what he did with the rest of the material from his notes when he finally knuckled down to the task of writing.
As a forecast, After Mandela: The Battle for the Soul of South Africa is, like a misleading weather report, a terrible hoax.
South Africa’s prognosis is far from this dire.
Editor’s Note: The hard cover version of After Mandela: The Battle for the Soul of South Africa was published in 2009, while the paperback version came out in May 2010. In the US, the book is published by Public Affairs (part of Perseus Books Group) under the title – Bring Me My Machine Gun: The Battle for the Soul of South Africa, from Mandela to Zuma