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Book Review


MacKinnon, Aran S. The Making of South Africa: Culture and Politics (Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004). 312 pp, $38.60.

     This relatively brief book is meant as an introductory study of South Africa. The subtitle suggests, incorrectly, that the focus is purely on culture and politics; rather, a main topic is also economics. The author is an associate professor at the University of West Georgia in the USA. He received his MA in Durban, SA, and earned his doctorate at the University of London. His book has ten chapters; each chapter ends with "Questions to Consider" and suggestions for "Further Readings." The work also contains ten maps, a glossary, and a list of related Web Sites. Overall there are only about 280 pages of text. Given such a broad subject in such a brief book, the author must short-change certain topics. MacKinnon thus chooses to give anything before the 19th century very light coverage: only two of the chapters (35 pages total) deal with history before 1800. 1
     The strength of this book lies in its strong description of both Europeans and native Africans and their respective 19th century cultural, political, and economic movements. This work does an excellent job of looking at the various African groups in South Africa and discussing their differences. It will certainly show those unfamiliar with African society that black Africans are not some monolithic group with identical beliefs and customs. MacKinnon shows not only how in the past Africans had lived but also how and why they fought among themselves or allied against a common enemy. Given that the author's previous studies have centered on the Zulu, it is not a surprise that the group plays a major role in this book. However, it also includes some fine details on the Griqua and Ndebele, and some fascinating and telling stories on the Xhosa and Khoe and their various divisions. 2
     Teachers and students will enjoy the background given on the historical importance of the "still-simmering debate about the complications of the concepts of the Mfecane" (73). Mackinnon's work concerning the Europeans is also very good. He gives solid detail on the Afrikaners and their many splinter groups. Moreover, his examination of the role of the British is excellent. Narrating the evolution of British imperial thought, the author recounts the government's ideals of liberal humanism and the resulting reforms for Africans, such as ending the slave trade, as opposed to those who were against these reforms for business or economic efficiency. The author's description of the positions on both sides of this issue is well done. Most readers will also be curious about the development, the policies, and the ending of apartheid. Here again, MacKinnon gives a strong, fascinating, and historically satisfying account of this era in South African history. 3
     The Making of South Africa does have some shortcomings. In a work covering so much history in so few pages there are bound to be neglected areas. The Huguenots rate just one sentence, when their economic impact deserves more. Indians, though their numbers are small, have played important roles in South African history; they too deserve a more in-depth and broader review. Missionaries and their work receive too much attention: is it necessary, for example, to tell us who the founder of the Methodists was when we are not told the name of the war in which Britain takes South Africa from the Netherlands? 4
     In addition, The Making of South Africa seems to have been rushed through the editing process. In the main text only one of the glossary terms appears in bold. Moreover, the definition given this term during the reading differs and is far more difficult than the one in the glossary. There are clearly some typographical errors as well, as Mackinnon has Gandhi living in South Africa from 1893-1814. The book could use more maps, especially in the discussion of military actions such as the Zulu conquests. The index is also very weak, as many of the terms in the text are not listed there. Two cases in point are AIDS and Zimbabwe, both of which appear on many pages yet are not found in the index. The adjectives describing Africans and their actions are much more positive than those for the Europeans: even African massacres or what one would commonly call atrocities are rationalized. 5
     This text would be excellent for an introductory class in the history of South Africa at the upper high school or university level. For those teaching world history classes, many sections of this work can help demonstrate the transfer of cultural and economic products between different groups of people. In addition, its focus on apartheid can be used to show the power of individuals in society. Overall this book is interesting and informative, and captures the imagination. 6
Michael J Harvey
Shanghai American School

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