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A truly powerful memoir, partly telling Malan's own story as a lefty journalist of hardline Afrikaner stock, and partly also an introduction to the dialect and grammar of South African political violence, particularly of the 1980s (the book came out in 1990, when it was clear that change was coming to South Africa but not at all clear what it would be or even how it would come).

The accounts of the various atrocities carried out by South Africans on each other are pretty stark, but Malan's message is clear: this was a racial problem, not a class war (of course, he was writing before the fall of Communism), and the only ultimate choice for the Afrikaners and for South Afrtica's other whites was to surrender to majority rule, with all the risks and dangers it entailed - not for strategic reasons (though the security situation was not viable in the medium or long term) but for moral reasons.

Back in my student days, I had a couple of right-wing acquaintances who would mutter that Mandela was actually guilty or that the death rate from black-on-black violence was much greater than the death rate from whites killing blacks. These points might have been true but Malan makes it clear that they were irrelevant, in a system constructed by the people he calls "the mad architects of apartheid". It was noticeable that these views tended to come from Tories rather than white South Africans, who generally wished it could all be over soon.

Anyway, I learned a lot from this book, and will stew gently on the implications for similar situations elsewhere.

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