Saturday, September 19, 2009

Alec Russell, Bring Me My Machine Gun

Subtitled, "The Battle for the Soul of South Africa from Mandela to Zuma", Russell's Bring Me My Machine Gun is an excellent account of, largely, the South Africa political landscape since the demise of state-sanctioned apartheid and the election of Mandela.

The subtitle is a bit more portentous than the actual work itself. More than anything Russell is detailing the political machinations of the African National Congress (ANC), and what that party-internal gamesmanship has meant for South Africa since 1990.

It's not a pretty picture.

But politics, anywhere, is messy. And as Russell points out -- time and again -- the ANC (and most importantly, some of its key officials; though not as often as would be hoped, its low-level, in-the-trenches workers, those who both have their pulse on the communities and could make an effective, if localized, difference in the lives of South African) has been able to manage what was, in truth, an almost unmanageable legacy.

It's an enlightening book, for sure, and frankly one of the more unsettling ones I've read lately, in a very understated way. Russell's style and approach is -- fitting, considering his background as, among other things, the Johannesburg bureau chief of the Financial Times -- reportorial... Is that right? He often frames his presentation of events and personalities as "On the one hand... but on the other..." An appropriate nod to the complexity of circumstances, for sure, but also slightly maddening.

Which is, perhaps, the point...

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