South Africa is one of the most diverse countries on the African continent, its nine provinces containing a broad linguistic, ethnic and cultural diversity that has seen it proclaimed as the ‘rainbow nation’. This diversity and a commensurate inequality in power and prosperity, was for most of the last few centuries the source of bitter division and repression. The white rule apartheid government, which for much of the 20th century ruled South Africa, enforced widespread segregation between blacks and whites in all areas of public life; they also initiated a violent campaign against opposition forces, imprisoned thousands and isolated the country internationally. Apartheid was ended in 1993 when F. W. de Klerk negotiated with Nelson Mandela for a transition to democratic government, following years of often violent resistance by the Africa National Congress. Mandela’s A Long Walk to Freedom portrays the struggle for an end to apartheid.
The legacy of years of politically enforced inequality remains evident in South Africa, which despite being the largest economy on the continent, has persistently high levels of poverty and joblessness. The issue of land distribution is also a sensitive one, with the majority of arable farmland still in the hands of white farmers. Nevertheless the emergence of a strong democratic culture, the success of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and the leading role taken by South African leaders in continent wide political and social issues reveals the way in which the country is becoming Africa’s superpower, and is on course to be one of the emerging world economic powerhouses in the coming years. Alec Russell’s After Mandela analyses the post Mandela years in South Africa, and looks to the future of the country.
The culture of South Africa reflects the diversity of the population and the various ethnic and cultural traditions that still persist, such as those the Zulu, Xhosa, Basotho; three of South Africa’s largest ethnic groups. South Africa also has a thriving contemporary arts scene and its national literary output is one of the most celebrated in Africa, with two Nobel Laureates in Nadine Gordimer and JM Coetzee. Works of literature in South African languages other than English are often less well read beyond the country, although several writers have managed to gain international recognition. Some other prominent South African writers include Lewis Nkosi, Zakes Mda, Andre Brink, Damon Galgut, Bessie Head and Njabulo Ndebele. South African cinema has started to develop a reputation over recent years with films such as Tsotsi, World Unseen and District 9, celebrated for their thought provoking, unique take on South African society and history.