Barber, a long-time analyst of South African affairs, has written an insightful account of the country's foreign policy during the late 1980s and 1990s, when it was undergoing its dramatic transition from apartheid to black majority rule. As the book's title suggests, Nelson Mandela is the key figure in this story, and his personality and immense international reputation shaped the political outcomes within the country as well as its international relations. Given its birth in the crucible of tremendous idealism, the new regime faced the weight of huge expectations but also could count on substantial international support. Barber's narrative ably describes the process by which South Africa became a less exceptional and a more normal country, with the institutionalization of its foreign policy apparatus, the redefinition of its national interests, and the carving out of pragmatic policies to defend them. The book is particularly insightful regarding the internal pressures on the government and the contradictory impulses that shaped policy outcomes.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.