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Capsule Review

The Soul of a Nation: Constitution-Making in South Africa

In This Review

The Soul of a Nation: Constitution-Making in South Africa
By Hassen Ebrahim
Oxford University Press, 2000 699 pp. $55.00 Purchase

The definitive account to date of South Africa's successful negotiation between 1990 and 1996 of a political settlement of its long racial conflict. A lawyer who played an important managerial role behind the scenes, the author strikes an admirably neutral tone in describing the slogging work of building consensus and compromise. Dramatic moments of crisis appeared when failure loomed, and only the maturity, determination, and humor of party leaders put the talks back on track. The focus throughout is not on the wider political canvas -- the March 1994 right-wing uprising in Bophuthatswana gets two terse sentences -- but on the detailed mechanics of the talks and the key issues under negotiation. This makes the work an ideal complement to the broader and less-exhaustive journalistic accounts of South Africa's transition by Allister Sparks, David Ottaway, and Patti Waldmeir. The inclusion of 38 historically important primary documents adds value to the text for both students and researchers.

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