Bring Me My Machine Gun: The Battle for the Soul of South Africa From Mandela to Zuma
By Alec Russell
PublicAffairs, 2009, 336 pp.
After the Party: Corruption, the ANC, and South Africa's Uncertain Future
By Andrew Feinstein
Verso, 2009, 320 pp.
The end of Thabo Mbeki's presidency and the settling in of Jacob Zuma provide an opportunity to assess the 15 years since the fall of apartheid. Russell's and Feinstein's assessments are both excellent and disquieting. A former South Africa correspondent for the Financial Times, Russell offers balanced portraits of the three postapartheid presidents, the policy successes and failures of the successive governments, and the emergence of a black elite. Thanks to the visionary leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) under Nelson Mandela, the country wildly outperformed most expectations. As depicted by Russell, the mediocre and paranoid leadership of Mbeki has slowly eaten away at the early optimism, and the country he describes is one of rising crime, corruption, and bitter race relations. Russell leavens his pessimism with inspiring tales of individual courage and virtue, but his is certainly a bleak account. Feinstein was one of the idealistic young white South African intellectuals who chose to support the ANC in the twilight years of the apartheid regime, and he was a parliamentary backbencher for that party from 1997 to 2001, when he resigned to protest a particularly corrupt arms deal. He has now written a fascinating memoir of his life in the ANC and of the scandal he helped uncover. His account is an absorbing insider's description of the internal culture of the ANC, from the chaotic (but still democratic) early years to its second decade of rule, when it had become a more centralized and expedient dominant party. Compared to Russell, Feinstein is mild in his criticism of Mbeki, but he is withering about the culture of corruption and spinelessness he sees in the ANC. Despite his damning portrait of the party's approach to governance, Feinstein appears sincere in his ultimate faith in its future and that of South Africa. On the other hand, like an increasing number of his white compatriots, he no longer lives there.