Beyond the Miracle: Inside the New South Africa; Overcoming Apartheid: Can Truth Reconcile a Divided Nation?; Elusive Equity: Education Reform in Post-Apartheid South Africa

In This Review

Beyond the Miracle: Inside the New South Africa

By Allister Sparks
University of Chicago Press, 2004
384 pp. $32.50
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Overcoming Apartheid: Can Truth Reconcile a Divided Nation?

By James L. Gibson
Russell Sage Foundation, 2004
488 pp. $47.50
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Elusive Equity: Education Reform in Post-Apartheid South Africa

By Edward B. Fiske and Helen F. Ladd
Brookings Institution Press, 2004
269 pp. $32.95
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What remains of the apartheid legacy and in what direction is the Republic of South Africa headed today? Reading these very different books together provides a sobering but ultimately hopeful perspective. All three point to the difficulty of resolving the country's historical racial divide but still recognize the significant, and largely unexpected, progress that South Africans have made toward creating a harmonious multiracial society.

Sparks provides an old-fashioned journalistic account of the first decade of postapartheid South Africa, largely through the eyes and actions of a small set of political and media elites, most of whom he seems to have known. The book is engagingly written, with numerous telling vignettes about key events and issues in the country's recent history. Its repeated flashbacks to well-known features of the apartheid era are not always necessary and give the book a sometimes rambling pace, but they do have the merit of reminding the reader just how awful that regime was-and just how far the country advanced during the 1990s. As Sparks also reminds us, few observers predicted that the transition to majority rule would be nearly as peaceful as it has turned out to be.

Gibson's impressive book is an assessment of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which convened numerous public meetings between 1995 and 2000 to shed light on the human rights abuses of the apartheid era. Its larger purpose is to assess, with the help of attitudinal surveys, the progress of racial reconciliation and the legitimacy of the current regime. Nonspecialists may find the survey research theorizing a bit technical at times, but Gibson provides a fascinating and nuanced explanation of how both white and black South Africans understand the country's historical failures and current attempts to rectify them. Fascinatingly, race alone does not explain all political attitudes in the country; often whites and blacks share similar attitudes, suggesting that a national identity may be in the process of emerging. At the same time, a majority of South Africans attribute disconcertingly little legitimacy to key national political institutions such as the legislature or the parliament.

The volume by Fiske and Ladd is more narrowly focused on education policy. Their account gauges the progress that South Africa has made in overcoming the legacies of horrendous inequity in the quality of educational opportunities. Despite this somewhat more limited frame, their story is nonetheless strikingly evocative of the dilemmas the country faces. For most of the twentieth century, the education system open to the black majority was subpar even by the standards of the developing world. In a mere decade, the new regime has created an educational system that comes pretty close to treating all races the same. And yet, given the persistence of socioeconomic disparities, even this equity serves to perpetuate substantial inequalities in effective educational opportunity. To approach equality in educational outcome, South Africa would need to devote an even larger share of its budget to education-which, given the pressures on the economy, the government can probably not afford. Tragically, Fiske and Ladd also suggest that it cannot afford not to. As with Sparks' and Gibson's books, their account makes clear that, despite impressive strides over the last decade, the rainbow nation's future is far from certain.