After Mandela: An Analysis

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“After Mandela,” by Douglas Foster (2012), is a written expose of the past and future political structure and struggles of post-apartheid South Africa. The book traces the entirety of the post-apartheid leadership arc, from Nelson Mandela’s historic election as the first black South African president, to the years of Thabo Mbeki’s vociferous rule and the subsequent power struggle between Mbeki and now president Jacob Zuma in the general elections of 2009 and beyond. Outlining South Africa’s past and present struggles through hundreds of conducted interviews, Douglas Foster illuminates post-apartheid South Africa in a historical revisionist account on the order of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.”

The observations made by Douglas Foster in “After Mandela” regarding the politics, media and economy are generally negative in nature, outline a story in which the country in question is being pulled between two equally powerful yet opposing forces. One side is the controversial leader Thabo Mbeki, whose rule in the years after Nelson Mandela served his final term in office has proved contentious, if nothing else. On the other, we have Jacob Zuma, a self-described “man of the people,” with humble beginnings and a populist opposition to the conservative, free-market policies imposed by Thabo Mbeki. Douglas Foster, in writing the manuscript for “After Mandela,” had unprecedented access to President Jacob Zuma during his time in office, using that access to its fullest extent in his interviews (Foster, 2012). His most interesting observations regarding the politics of the country, though, would have to be those made with regards to the press conference held just hours after the African National Congress has stripped President Thabo Mbeki of his powers. President Mbeki appears with his political foe, Jacob Zuma, holding hands and professing that any ill will shared between the two of them is simply the machinations of political enemies who would seek to do both gentleman, and the African National Congress, irreparable reputational harm. Douglas Foster muses that this is solid evidence, not only of the relative westernization of the South African political process, where elected leaders and those with the ambitions of becoming elected leaders seem to be cloaking their ambitions in higher moral purpose, but of the African National Congress’ mistrust of the media. Foster’s thoughts on the economy, despite his relative neutrality on the issue, seems to favor the policies of President Mbeki. Jacob Zuma, while portrayed by some as the people’s champion, has done little in the way of forging progress: Under his rule, the gap between rich and poor has grown wider, corruption remains rampant and schools and hospitals continue to operate in a state of disarray.

Doug Foster, at many points in his book, both criticizes and admires the politics and culture of South Africa. While he expresses his dismay at the current state of political and cultural affairs, Foster maintains a rosy outlook and an optimistic disposition regarding the future of South Africa. It is this optimism he displays to those he interviews, citing his admiration for the attempts of the South African people and even the African National Congress, for attempting to root out post-Apartheid and post-Mandela corruption, while continuing the attempts at unification between white and black South Africans.

There are many similarities between American and South African culture, primarily because the progenitors of modern civilization in both countries had been heavily influenced by Western Europe; both the United States and South Africa were “founded” by British settlers, bringing most of their cultural heritage with them. The religious philosophy in both nations can be summed up as “Christian,” the economic policies for both are heavily capitalistic in nature and the systems of government can both be described as Constitutional Republics. Despite the many similarities arisen from cultural links between the United States and South Africa, there remain many differences. South Africa is not a primarily English nation, whereas you would be hard pressed to find anyone native to the United States who did not speak English. In addition to this, South Africa also boasts some of the most significant statistics with regards to inequality between rich and poor- the majority of black South Africans are still a largely rural, impoverished peoples. The poorest Americans, in contrast, still maintain a life style that includes things like electricity, running water and enough food to survive. The most difficult difference to understand between South Africa and the United States, for me, was the issue of race relations. In the United States, the abolition of slavery took place in 1863. The abolition of slavery by the British Empire had taken place thirty years prior, in 1833. The first black leader of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was elected in 1994. The first black president of the United States wasn’t elected until 2013. Apartheid in South Africa, however, wasn’t abolished until 1994. Jim Crowe laws, the United States apartheid equivalent, were abolished near the end of the 1960’s. I found it interesting that, while the United States lagged far behind in the realm of official racial equality, the abolishment of Jim Crowe and the subsequent attempts to strengthen race relations in the U.S. predated the end of South African Apartheid by nearly 30 years. Upon the abolishment of apartheid, however, South Africa once again jumped ahead of the United States in terms of racial equality, abolishing apartheid and electing their first black president in 1994. The United States, meanwhile, was effectively surprised that a black president had been elected in the year 2013.

The central theme of “After Mandela,” is the country of South Africa’s struggle for dignity, justice and a brighter future, encapsulated by the epic political duel between former President Thabo Mbeki and current President Jacob Zuma. Douglas Foster explores the public perceptions and private lives of these two men in his attempts to paint a picture of good vs. evil in the battle for the soul of South Africa. Foster employs the use of interviews with the Mbeki and Zuma themselves, interviews with their children, other members of the African National Congress and citizens of South Africa, in order to tell this story through the eyes of those its outcome will most severely effect.

The evidence Foster relies on to support his views detailed in the book is largely anecdotal. While supplying very little in the way of facts and statistics that might point to his beliefs that Jacob Zuma is the champion of the people, his access to both Zuma and those who inhabit his private and public life allows Foster to delve into the even the most minute details regarding the man’s life, ambitions and his visions for the bright future of South Africa. The authors dependence on personal opinions throughout the interviews he conducts with the young people in the book, tell a different tale, one of a country still very much in the throes of socioeconomic decline that affects them on a daily basis. As such, the evidence provided by the author for his claims of economic and social turmoil mostly speculative, yet convincing, in that the lives of those he interviews, while not so concrete as statistics, can be viewed as a type of evidence that can only be gained through the personal interactions Foster focuses on throughout the book.

The main concept from the textbook that I’ve found to be the most repeated throughout the entirety of “After Mandela,” was the concepts related to the challenges of communicating in an intercultural world (Lustig & Koester, 2012). The cultural differences between those who instituted apartheid and those who abolished it are incredibly wide, but a chasm even more difficult to traverse in terms of cultural communication, could be the gap between those who experienced apartheid first hand, those who were too young to remember and those who were born after its abolishment. The communication and setting aside of differences between the pre-apartheid black and white South African communities has been a struggle thus far, with the potential for racial and economic backlash on the side of the disenfranchised ethnic majority only subsiding in recent years due to the election of a populist president in Jacob Zuma. Prior to that, the potential for racial and economic backlash on the part of the white minority was mitigated only because of the transcendence of President Nelson Mandela’s ability to mediate. The current generation of South Africans reaching adulthood, those who will be in place to take over for President Jacob Zuma, should he serve a full two terms as president, are in dire need of education on the issue of apartheid and the struggles faced by their previous generation if they ever hope to solve the issues currently plaguing their nation. Douglas Foster’s book explores the concept of the difficulties of intercultural communication by speaking of these facts to members from each of these groups, in addition to subgroups of individuals who hail from increasingly diverse backgrounds and socioeconomic status. “After Mandela” attempts to understand what it means for these people and their various viewpoints and ways of life to interact with one another, and come to solutions for their common goals in their efforts to better themselves and the country in which they live.

Some of the passages I found most interesting in the book can be attributed to interviews with Jacob Zuma’s daughter, Thuthu and some of the musings of the author. For instance, in the interview Foster conducts with Thuthu, she begins speaking about the inconveniences of visiting her father’s Zulu homestead, because, as tribal law and customs dictate, females are required to be submissive to males. She labels this “a precipitous demotion in status,” and something that both hurts and angers her. I found it interesting that such a progressive, populist individual as Jacob Zuma is claimed to be (in both the interviews with other political figures and himself) would impose upon one of his children the embarrassing and draconian gender role expected of a Zulu woman. The other passage I found interesting was Douglas Foster’s bewilderment at Jacob Zuma’s support for Libyan dictator Muammar Gadaffi; given the largely sympathetic views of communism characteristic of the early ANC, it seems nearly logical that a man such as Jacob Zuma, with heavy ANC ties, would be decidedly sympathetic to an individual who professed belief in such systems, even one as ruthless as Muammar Gadaffi.

Reading this book has definitely broadened my perspectives of South Africa. Prior to reading “After Mandela,” my beliefs and education about apartheid had consisted of simply the apartheid era and the post-apartheid era- there was no talk of a complex transitory period, in which South Africa is still embroiled to this day.

References

Foster, D. (2012). After Mandela: The struggle for freedom in post-apartheid South Africa. New York: Liveright Pub. Corporation.

Lustig, M. W., & Koester, J. (2012). Intercultural competence: Interpersonal communication across cultures. 7th ed. New York: Longman.