The Latest Jacana Pocket History: South Africa’s Struggle for Human Rights
The Human Rights Movement in South Africa’s transition to a post-apartheid democracy has been widely celebrated as a triumph for global human rights. It was a key aspect of the political transition, often referred to as a ‘miracle’, which brought majority rule and democracy to South Africa. However, the year is 2012 and South Africa continues to grapple with corruption, growing social and economic inequalities, and the weakening of state institutions by partisan appointments and one-party dominance. Attacks on freedom of expression, particularly attempts by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to tamper with media independence, raised serious concerns about the government’s commitment to the protection of basic civil and political rights. Despite these concerns, institutions of democracy, among them the South African Human Rights Commission and the Public Protector, remain highly active.
Saul Dubow’s South Africa’s Struggle for Human Rights contextualises and explains the current concerns about rights and constitutionalism, as well as the populist reaction against the compromises or deals involved in the elite pact which brought about our New South Africa. The mid-1980s played a significant role as it is the time when the apartheid government and the ANC ‘discovered’ human rights at precisely the same time. African nationalist, liberalist and republican traditions were fragmented and episodic, but they help to explain why rights discourse and constitutionalism gained broad acceptance in the last decade of the twentieth century, and so aligned South Africa with global trends.
About the author
Saul Dubow is a professor of history at the University of Sussex, England. He has published widely on the development of racial segregation and apartheid in all its aspects: political, ideological and intellectual. He is the author of A Commonwealth of Knowledge. Science, Sensibility and White South Africa, 1820–2000 (2006); The African National Congress (2000); Scientific Racism in Modern South Africa (1995); and Racial Segregation and the Origins of Apartheid in Twentieth Century South Africa, 1919–36 (1989). He is currently working on a new history of apartheid.