In This Review

Understanding South Africa
Understanding South Africa
By Carien du Plessis and Martin Plaut
Hurst, 2019, 316 pp.

This breezy introduction to contemporary South Africa by two of its veteran journalists is perfect for anyone wanting a quick survey of the main issues currently facing the country. Chapters cover the reasons for South Africa’s disappointing economic performance over the last three decades, the lamentable state of the educational system, the failure of the opposition to wrest power from the African National Congress, the divisive politics around land, and other contentious subjects. In each case, Du Plessis and Plaut smartly start with the historical context before tracing continuities with and departures from the apartheid years. The authors don’t present precise prescriptions for a way out of the stagnation in which the country finds itself. Nonetheless, one of the book’s strengths is its nuanced recognition of the many interests and viewpoints that inform the country’s major political issues, a complexity that stems directly from South Africa’s divided past.