Afrikaners Reflect On the End Of Apartheid



By June Goodwin

and Ben Schiff

Scribner, 415 pp., $27.50

Having served as a reporter in South Africa for The Christian Science Monitor during the turbulent late 1970s, June Goodwin noted in the introduction to her spare and lucid first book, ''Cry Amandla!'': ''I saw enough to need to find out more about the people who created and supported apartheid. Who are they? Why did they invent it? How do they explain themselves to others?...''

A decade later, in the somewhat unwieldy ''Heart of Whiteness,'' Goodwin and co-author/husband Ben Schiff take up these questions in earnest, as they probe the origins, underpinnings, and future of what they call the ''biggest social engineering effort of this last half century.''

To extrapolate on the historical, religious, and political roots of apartheid - and on the suffocating system of rules and retribution that were contrived to oppress the black majority and suppress dissent within the white minority - the authors rely largely on the words of more than 120 Afrikaners they interviewed in 1992.

The book's subjects are alternately eloquent and bewildered, hopeful and harsh, as they grapple with the magnitude of events set in motion two years earlier, when President Frederik de Klerk declared the beginning of the end of apartheid, and Nelson Mandela emerged as a free man into the glorious late summer sunshine of Cape Town.

The rise of a distinct Afrikaner nationalism and mythology was epitomized in the founding of the Broederbond in 1918. The role of the secretive, powerful, and well-funded Broeders in apartheid's creation, evolution, and devolution makes one of the book's two most interesting sections. (The other is a discussion of the role of the clergy and the use of religion in the service of politics.)

Many of those interviewed testify to the chilling effectiveness of the Broederbond's control in keeping whites ignorant of the brutality, torture, and war on blacks being waged by the National Party government in their own and neighboring countries. The social ostracism and physical abuse of the hundreds of Afrikaners who spoke out against apartheid was an effective deterrent to wider dissent.

Like slavery, colonialism, or various other tyrannies, however, apartheid was a system destined for self-destruction. But why it began to unravel just when it did is a question that is not definitively answered by this book (or by other explorations of the subject). Whether the decisive factor was international sanctions, the revolution in mass communications, the tidal wave of black opposition, the African National Congress's leadership, moral regeneration, or pure pragmatism is unclear.

What is clear is that, in the three years between the interviews and their publication in ''Heart of Whiteness,'' South Africans have undertaken an awesome political venture, including their first-ever democratic election.

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