Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela (1994). A reader should have even more skepticism about any politician’s autobiography, especially one published on the eve of an election. In 1994, when South Africans of all colors were able to go to the polls for the first time, Mandela was eager, in this book, to reassure the white population that his presidency would not be one of hatred and revenge. But he was deeply sincere in this, and despite its predictable bows to political allies, this memoir of an extraordinary man’s life, in the way he wanted to tell it, is an important historical document.
After Mandela: The Struggle for Freedom in Post-Apartheid South Africa, by Douglas Foster (2012). Penetrating and untainted by any mythmaking, this is by far the most interesting book about South Africa published in the past five or 10 years. An American, Foster managed to get deep into aspects of present-day South Africa that foreign correspondents seldom have time for, such as the life history and daily routine of a young Cape Town street criminal, the often-troubled lives of the new black elite’s children and grandchildren, and the sometimes bitter rivalries among black and brown South Africans.
Beyond the Miracle: Inside the New South Africa, by Allister Sparks (2003). This account by a veteran South African journalist is slightly dated and is a somewhat more optimistic picture than we might have today, but Sparks knows his country thoroughly. And he is wise enough to understand the vast difference between political democracy and economic justice — and what a huge distance South Africa has to cover to achieve the latter.
Dinosaurs, Diamonds & Democracy: A Short, Short History of South Africa, by Francis Wilson (2011). You can’t understand Mandela or today’s South Africa without looking at the entire history of this complex, fascinating country and at the dreams of land and quick riches that have done so much to determine its course. This is a highly readable, quick survey, profusely illustrated, by a distinguished South African economist, Protestant layman and social-justice activist.
s books include “The Mirror at Midnight: A South African Journey,” a portrait of the country near the end of the apartheid years.