Understanding South Africa

October 2019 9781787382046 316pp
EU Customers


When Nelson Mandela emerged from decades in jail to preach reconciliation, South Africans truly appeared a people reborn as the Rainbow Nation. Yet, a quarter of a century later, the country sank into bitter recriminations and rampant corruption under Jacob Zuma. Why did this happen, and how was hope betrayed?

President Cyril Ramaphosa, hoping to heal these wounds, was re-elected in May 2019 with the ANC hoping to claw back support lost to the opposition in the Zuma era. This book analyses this election, shedding light on voters’ choices.

With chapters on all the major issues at stake—from education to land redistribution— Understanding South Africa offers insights into Africa’s largest and most diversified economy, closely tied to its neighbours’ fortunes.


‘A provocative and sobering analysis of the complex issues confronting post-apartheid South Africa.’ — CHOICE

‘This breezy introduction to contemporary South Africa by two of its veteran journalists is perfect for anyone wanting a quick survey of the main issues currently facing the country.’ — Foreign Affairs

‘[T]his book offers a succinct overview of the intricacies of South Africa’s complex society… Understanding South Africa is therefore … essential reading for anyone hoping to make sense not only of the country, but also of the wider region.’ — Survival

‘This wide-ranging, topical introduction to contemporary South Africa, by two senior journalists, provides shrewd and lucid political analysis for those wishing to acquaint themselves with the country’s manifold complexities, as well as a sound reading of South African history. Recommended.’ — Saul Dubow, Smuts Professor of Commonwealth History, University of Cambridge

‘A timely book offering a window into the soul of South Africa through examining the historical, socio-political and economic issues that have shaped and continue to mould the country. Highly recommended for anyone looking to gain a deeper understanding of South Africa.’ — Ndangwa Noyoo, Associate Professor and Head of the Social Development Department, University of Cape Town

‘An appealing, necessary and crucial evaluation of a country under stress, explaining — with maturity and integrity — the worth of diversity and the pain of division, and the need to think more carefully about economic and political institutions that create poverty, violence, and disillusionment.’ — Toyin Falola, Professor of African Studies and Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities, University of Texas at Austin



Carien du Plessis is one of South Africa's most respected journalists. She writes for The Huffington Post, The Mail & Guardian, and City Press.

Martin Plaut, the BBC World Service's former Africa Editor, has published extensively on African affairs. An adviser to the Foreign Office and the US State Department, he is Senior Researcher at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.

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