R. W. Johnson

South Africa's Brave New World
  • South Africa's Brave New World

  • The universal jubilation that greeted Nelson Mandela's inauguration as president of South Africa in 1994 and the process by which the nightmare of apartheid had been banished is one of the most thrilling, hopeful stories in the modern era: peaceful, rational change was possible and, as with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the weight of an oppressive history was suddenly lifted.

    R.W. Johnson's major new book tells the story of South Africa from that magic period to the bitter disappointment of the present. As it turned out, it was not so easy for South Africa to shake off its past. The profound damage of apartheid meant there was not an adequate educated black middle class to run the new state and apartheid had done great psychological harm too, issues that no amount of goodwill could wish away. Equally damaging were the new leaders, many of whom had lived in exile or in prison for much of their adult lives and who tried to impose decrepit, Eastern Bloc political ideas on a world that had long moved on.

    This disastrous combination has had a terrible impact - it poisoned everything from big business to education to energy utilities to AIDS policy to relations with Zimbabwe. At the heart of the book lies the ruinous figure of Thabo Mbeki, whose over-reaching ambitions led to catastrophic failure on almost every front. But, as Johnson makes clear, Mbeki may have contributed more than anyone else to bringing South Africa close to "failed state" status, but he had plenty of help.

R.W. Johnson has spent much of his life thinking and writing about South Africa. An anti-apartheid activist since his teens, he is one of the few people alive who heard public speeches given by both Verwoerd and Mandela before the latter was imprisoned. An ANC supporter, he narrowly escaped jail before arriving in England as a Rhodes Scholar. He went on to become a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. In 1977 his seminal book How Long Will South Africa Survive? was published. Johnson's long exile left him with few illusions about the ANC and its Communist party allies, but with South Africa's liberation he returned to live in the new South Africa, and headed the Helen Suzman Foundation. R.W. Johnson is the South Africa correspondent for the Sunday Times.

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