Dan Sandman

09: Southern Africa by Jonathan Farley

In Books, History, Non-Fiction on 27/02/2015 at 12:00 pm

Southern Africa by Jonathan FarleyThis concise history book is focused on Southern Africa as a region, expertly bringing together the central events and personalities that have shaped contemporary South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland and Namibia. The book is divided into four heading: the economic and social dimension, the political dimension, the security dimension and the foreign policy dimension – with conclusions forming a fifth part. In an authoritative way, the work draws together map-changing events such as the collapse of Portugal’s African empire (1974), the independence of Rhodesia as Zimbabwe (1980) and South Africa achieving majority rule in 1994.

Jonathan Farley has taught African politics on naval officer courses in Greenwich, and expertly guides the reader through the complex and inter-connected politics and issues. He is first to admit that Southern Africa has immense problems – such as AIDS, general insecurity, violence against woman, injustice in Zimbabwe and lack of reconciliation across the colour line (pg. 139) – but is often convincing when discussing solutions to these problems. For example, he supports ‘the onward march of education that will eventually bring about greater enlightenment, greater tolerance and the greatest happiness’. But, the difficulty is, Southern Africa needs to develop a system that can support such luxuries as education, health and lower crime rates. In historical terms, the region is still in its infancy – if we take 1974 as a turning point, as Farley does – and so far, when we consider the relatively recent transference from minority rule to majority rule, it should be credited for the forward steps it has taken. However, one thing is clear, on an unacceptable scale, too many Southern African people continue to suffer from preventable disease, sexist attacks, political corruption and racial division.

On the whole, I enjoyed studying this book and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in general history. It is small in size, but packs a big punch, covering the most essential incidents and characters (eg. the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck to the the Cape in 1652). My main criticism is that, for a book published in 2008, during the presidency of Thabo Mbeki in South Africa, it is already dated. One example that stood out for me, is the optimistic way Farley discuses the sacking of Jacob Zuma in regards to the political dimension. When he was deputy prime minister, the current president was rightly fired for taking back-handers. In hindsight, when Farley holds this up as a good example, it is rather disparaging to read. Still, this only goes to show how important it is that we read history books, digest what we have learnt and reflect on this knowledge.

That’s why I write about history.


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