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Books look at recent history of southern Africa

Endgame: Secret Talks and the End of Apartheid by  Willie Esterhuyse, Cape Town, South Africa: Tafelberg (NB Publishers) 2012, 363 pp. Paperback, $28.88.

The Rough Guide to Nelson Mandela: His Life, His Impact, His Legacy by Max du Preez, London: The Penguin Group, 2011, 288 pp. Paperback, $16.25.

Eye on the Diamonds by Terry Crawford-Browne, Johannesburg: Penguin Group (South Africa), 2012, 268 pages. Paperback, $24.38.

Mugabe and the White African by Ben Freeth, Cape Town, South Africa: Zebra Press (Random House Struik), 2011, 256 pp. Paperback, $25.75.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Today, many people of South Africa and the region continue to suffer from exploitation by foreign-owned mineral companies, failures of reform organizations to implement real democracy and a rise of dictatorial regimes run by black Africans. 

Widespread poverty, especially in South Africa's townships, is growing even worse.

Several books recently published in South Africa provide provocative and powerful insights into these scourges. When, or even whether, real reforms will occur remains unclear.

From Apartheid to democracy

Willie Esterhuyse, a professor and businessman, was a key Afrikaner involved in secret negotiations in the late 1980s between the African National Congress and apartheid government leaders, especially operatives in South Africa's National Intelligence Service.

Esterhuyse, who lives in Stellenbosch near Cape Town, provides fascinating, previously unpublicized insights into years of secret meetings planning how to end apartheid in his new book, "Endgame: Secret Talks and the End of Apartheid."

"Endgame" details the complexities in that transition. Secret meetings, held in England and other countries, were critical to initiating negotiations between top ANC and apartheid government leaders to plan how to end the collapsing apartheid system.

Those meetings also forged a lasting friendship between Esterhuyse and Thabo Mbeki, an ANC activist who later served two terms as South Africa's president, between 1999 and 2008.

Esterhuyse describes conflicts and disagreements during those negotiations, such the wishes of some Afrikaner leaders to create a government that still provided them with special privileges and plans of some ANC leaders to launch new armed rebellions.

Nelson Mandela, released from prison after 27 years on Feb. 11, 1990, was "a visionary leader, a Moses figure," Esterhuyse writes." After he was freed, "Mandela was his true self: peace seeker; conciliator; moderate; non-racial."

Mandela's qualities were critical in calming tensions after apartheid ended and hundreds of previous government "enemies" were released from prison or allowed back into the country from exile.

But "freedom does not necessarily bring peace. It opens up possibilities for new power struggles," Esterhuyse stresses.

In his "Rough Guide to Nelson Mandela," newspaper reporter Max du Preez wrote, "Here was a man who was more of a humanist than an ideologue, who took a pragmatic approach to defeating apartheid and -- having done so -- displayed a unique capacity for forgiveness and reconciliation, delivering his country from near-civil war almost single-handedly, and inspiring millions of people around the world."

Mandela's dignity and compassion, de Preez writes, quickly turned him into a global statesman.

During secret talks before Mandela was released, Mbeki was never anti-Afrikaner, believing negotiations had to take place primarily between the ANC and Afrikaner government leaders.

Before apartheid was officially abandoned, Mbeki also warned existing poverty and economic inequalities would pose major stumbling blocks to creating "lasting reconciliation and peace."

Once black South Africans gained political power, Mbeki believed, they "will find any way whatsoever to gain access to wealth too."

Esterhuyse remembers that Mbeki gave him "many sleepless nights" when he privately told him, "Liberation from a dictatorship inevitably also entails corruption. South Africa's liberation will be plagued by corruption. People who have been oppressed and disadvantaged economically argue that they lost a great deal in the past. Hence they believe they are entitled to 'make up for it.' "

Mbeki said "post-independence elites" often enrich themselves at the continued expense of the poor.

These books provide unsettling insights into ongoing conflicts and new threats to freedom, especially under the current South African President Jacob Zuma, who also participated in those secret gatherings to end apartheid.

The Zuma administration wants to silence critics, du Preez wrote in his book published before the widely publicized controversy that erupted in May over "The Spear." Brent Murray, a white artist who was a longtime opponent of apartheid, created the provocative painting attacking Zuma's sexual and political lives.

Zuma is showing a growing tendency, du Preez believes, "to target the media, especially newspapers, and to rewrite the law books to limit the freedom of speech in the South African constitution."

Influence of foreign mineral owners

Terry Crawford-Browne's "Eye on the Diamonds" looks at economic motivations that originally spurred the creation of European colonies throughout Africa and today's continued efforts by developed nations, including the United States, to preserve influence among African leaders, even if they are brutal dictators.

Africa has high percentages of the world's most valuable minerals: 88 percent of its platinum; 73 percent of diamonds; 60 percent of manganese and cobalt; 40 percent of gold; and 30 percent of uranium.

Countries across the world -- including the U.S., Great Britain, Israel, Russia and China -- are directly involved in lucrative mining ventures in South Africa, Zimbabwe, the Congo, Sierra Leone and other African nations.

 Crawford-Brown criticizes "rapacious foreigners" and "local warlords" for plundering Africa's natural resources and agricultural businesses.

"And there is basically no end in sight," he adds.

"In the 150 years since they were discovered at Kimberly, diamonds have brought minimal economic benefits ... to indigenous populations in South Africa, Namibia or Botswana. About 97 percent of production has been exported 'in the rough' for cutting and polishing in Belgium, Israel or India."

Industrial diamonds are a critical ingredient for many military armaments, precision machine tools and laser technology.

Crawford-Browne also criticizes Mbeki for his central role in spending South African government funds -- $7.5 billion in U.S. dollars -- to buy submarines, naval frigates and fighter jets new fighter planes and other armaments by 2006.

In 2008, Desmond Tutu and F.W. de Klerk, the former president of South Africa, asked the government to create an independent commission to investigate ongoing arms deals. The commission was never created.

"Mbeki's positions on AIDS, Zimbabwe and the arms deal became the three defining issues of his unlamented presidency," Crawford-Browne writes, referring to his support of dictator Robert Mugabe and his denial that the HIV virus caused AIDS.

When Jacob Zuma succeeded Mbeki in 2008, the "whole thrust" of his new administration "was to block any investigation into the arms deals," Crawford-Browne writes, particularly into possible illegal transfers of money.

Meanwhile, South Africa's new government failed in many of its key functions.

"South Africa's public education and health services are even worse than they had been in the apartheid era. The number of people living in shacks in the most appalling conditions was, and remains, a national disgrace. These failures by the ANC government are inexcusable," Crawford-Browne writes.

"Hundreds of thousands of people have died of HIV/Aids-related causes because weapons procurements were given priority instead of anti-retroviral drugs. With unemployment rates of approximately 40 percent, South Africa's future as a constitutional democracy has been severely imperiled."

Mandela, on the other hand, has been a prominent advocate of helping people suffering form AIDS around the world. 

Violent attacks on whites

Ben Freeth's "Mugabe and the White African" tells deeply disturbing stories about life in Zimbabwe after Robert Mugabe became leader of the former Southern Rhodesia in 1980.

 Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner from South Africa, praises Freeth for explaining "how the shocking acts of violence and wanton destruction committed in the name of land reform have demolished property rights and all but ruined commercial agriculture in this once high successful African country."

The white population of Zimbabwe plummeted from just under 300,000 to 100,000 between 1973 and 1983.

 "Mugabe's first aim was to cleanse the land of white people. If the white man was out of the way, then he could get on with intimidating the black people without any hindrance," Freeth comments.

 Mugabe once said, "I am the Hitler of our time. This Hitler has only one objective -- justice for his own people."

Mugabe launched public and covert campaigns against commercial farms to remove white landholders from their property, even though many of those landowners were providing some of the country's best jobs held by black African workers.

Mugabe's policies caused joblessness and devastating economic problems for nearly two million farm workers and their families.

"The vast majority of [white] farmers had already been evicted from their farms," by May 2004, Freeth writes.  "Not a single farm had been vacated through a bona fide eviction, order from a court, and nobody was being compensated."

After getting re-elected in 2005, Mugabe nationalized all land owned by white Africans. White farmers who tried to stay on their land could be sentenced to two years in prison.

Many newly-unemployed farm workers moved into towns and squatter camps. Mugabe then destroyed and flattened 700,000 of their homes, affecting 2.4 million poor people, according to the United Nations.

In his book, Freeth tells painful stories about attacks on white landowners by the Zimbabwe National Army and unidentified thugs working with the government. Thousands of farm owners and farm workers were maimed, burned or killed. Some black African farm workers had their hands and arms cut off.

A Spanish journalist in his home when it was under attack, Freeth wrote, "told me that he'd faced dangerous situations in Iraq and Afghanistan but had never been as scared as he was in our house on a farm in Zimbabwe."

Shortly thereafter, Freeth's house was burnt down to the ground.

Esterhuyse has a dim view of the present and immediate future, especially after Mandela left the presidency.

Today, South Africa suffers from "terrible poverty, and the legacy of apartheid is visible everywhere.

"There are also high material expectations on the part of the oppressed," he adds. But "the gap between rich and poor is massive."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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