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Beyond the Miracle: Inside the new South Africa
By Allister Sparks
Published: 01-APR-04

Beyond the Miracle
There is something refreshing about Allister Sparks's Beyond the miracle: Inside the new South Africa (Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2003).

Miracle is a word often used when discussing the transition from Apartheid South Africa to the Rainbow Nation.

Sparks's contribution starts from his realisation that miracle, in our case, is not a one-off, complete event occasioned and overseen by angels. Indeed, he acknowledges, and pays tribute to, the various people who made the miracle possible. In his take on the new South Africa, miracle is an ongoing process that requires courage, hard work, steadfastness and mutual understanding on the part of all South African's.

It is the fruit of human efforts that can help us to avoid bloodshed - such as that erroneously expected during the 1994 elections - and see us move beyond obstacles to realise a future beneficial to all.

Sparks's account neither sentimentalised nor idealised, and his vision of the country's future takes into consideration the significant work that still remains to be done in politics, the economy and culture, among others.

So, what is his account of the new South Africa? First, he acknowledges, and encourages us to celebrate, the achievements that have been realised since 1994. We have a progressive constitution; a judiciary that we can have faith in, willing and prepared to take authority to task where and when necessary; we have institutions such as the Independent Electoral Commission and the Human Rights Commission, which serve as the public's watchdogs, sound alarms when the rights of the citizens get short-changed, or mediate between the public and political parties, which cannot necessarily be trusted not to be partisan. Furthermore, there is freedom of expression, advancement in educational policies, and abolition of racist laws.

In his view, however, problems still remain, and some new ones have emerged. Despite our grand policies and our excellent endeavours, racism still exists, for example. He directs our eyes not only to racism between black and white, but also to black South Africans' xenophobia, directed at black Africans from other African countries that have in many ways supported the struggle for liberation in SA.

More painfully, for me at least, Sparks points out a brash kind of black consciousness that is inconsistent with the sophisticated black consciousness of earlier leaders such as Steve Biko. And he sees the chemistry between the opposition, represented by Tony Leon, and the current president Thabo Mbeki, as "� the worst South Africa could possibly have at this juncture." The implications of such chemistry for the country as a whole could, of course, be far-reaching; it will depend on the two leaders themselves, as well as the general population, whether this becomes positive or negative.

Given Sparks's understanding of the nuances of South African politics, it is not at all surprising that he is alert to the difficulties of surging into a better future for all, to borrow the African National Congress's rallying slogan. One of the trickiest aspects of our lives that need to be sorted out urgently, he contends, is education. He estimates that, "[i]n the best of circumstances it takes 21 years and nine months to produce a new skilled worker. And before you can do that you must first produce a corps of skilled and dedicated teachers." Worryingly, "the ANC came into power in 1994 [and] it had to start that daunting task from scratch - and sadly, it stumbled and wasted time." In addition, "the crime wave is hastening the departure of old skills, as it drives the brain drain."

It would seem that we are probably not even starting from scratch in the area of education; we are starting from the left side of point zero. The miracle will take a long time to realise, seems to be the overall message of this sober and sobering book.

Publisher: Jonathan Ball Publishers 2003
ISBN: 1-86842-150-3
Selling Price: R 174.00 (Hardback)

  • Reviewed by Phaswane Mpe

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