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New Pocket Biographies: Chris Hani, Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba and Haile Selassie

The Jacana Pocket Series is is meant for those who are looking for a brief but lively introduction to a wide range of topics on African history, politics and biography. Written by some of the leading experts in their fields, the individual volumes are informative and accessible, inexpensive yet well produced, and slim enough to put in your pocket and carry with you.

Four new Jacana Pocket Biographies are now available:

A Jacana Pocket Biography: Chris Hani by Hugh Macmillan

A Jacana Pocket Biography: Chris HaniChris Hani is one of the most iconic black leaders in South Africa’s recent history. He was the leader of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and chief of staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC.

His assassination on 10 April 1993 by far-right wingers threatened to upset the negotiations process. Serious tensions followed, with fears that the country would erupt in violence. Mandela address the nation calling for calm, to avert further violence, stating: “Tonight I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being. A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know, and bring to justice, this assassin. The cold-blooded murder of Chris Hani has sent shockwaves throughout the country and the world … now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for – the freedom of all of us.”

This short biography brings out Hani’s role in MK and in the politics of the early 1990s, and is written by a distinguished historian who met Hani in exile in Lusaka.

“A valuable addition to the history of our time, reflecting the stupendous research of a writer whose considered sifting of the material has produced a narrative that is credible, compelling and important. One is left with a mounting sense of the significance of the ANC’s exile experience in Africa in shaping or presaging or influencing the post-1994 dynamics and conduct of the ANC in government. It is the extraordinary story of an episode poorly understood by most … thoughtful and judicious … an important addition to the literature on the ANC.” – Colin Bundy, former Principal of Green Templeton College, Oxford

About the author

Hugh Macmillan is a historian who has taught at universities in Swaziland, Zambia and South Africa. He is currently a research associate at the African Studies Centre, Oxford University. His books include The Lusaka Years: The ANC in Exile (Jacana, 2013), An African Trading Empire (IB Tauris, 2005) and Zion in Africa (IB Tauris, 1999, with Frank Shapiro). He has published widely on a variety of southern African topics, including the history of the ANC.

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A Jacana Pocket Biography: Thomas Sankara: An African Revolutionary by Ernest Harsch

A Jacana Pocket Biography: Thomas SankaraThomas Sankara, often called the African Che Guevara, was president of Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in Africa, until his assassination during the military coup that brought down his government. Although his tenure in office was relatively short, Sankara left an indelible mark on his country’s history and development. An avowed Marxist, he outspokenly asserted his country’s independence from France and other Western powers while at the same time seeking to build a genuine pan-African unity. He is held in high esteem by Julius Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters.

Ernest Harsch traces Sankara’s life from his student days to his recruitment into the military, early political awakening, and increasing dismay with his country’s extreme poverty and political corruption. As he rose to higher leadership positions, he used those offices to mobilise people for change and to counter the influence of the old, corrupt elites. Sankara and his colleagues initiated economic and social policies that shifted away from dependence on foreign aid and toward a greater use of the country’s own resources to build schools, health clinics, and public works. Although Sankara’s sweeping vision and practical reforms won him admirers both in Burkina Faso and across Africa, a combination of domestic opposition groups and factions within his own government and the army finally led to his assassination in 1987.

This is the first English-language book to tell the story of Sankara’s life and struggles, drawing on the author’s extensive first-hand research and reporting on Burkina Faso, including interviews with the late leader. Decades after his death, Sankara remains an inspiration to young people throughout Africa for his integrity, idealism, and dedication to independence and self-determination.

“Thomas Sankara: An African Revolutionary will serve as an excellent introduction to Sankara and the revolution in Burkina Faso and explain why Sankara continues to be so widely admired throughout Africa and beyond.” – Christopher Wise, author of Derrida, Africa, and the Middle East

About the author

Ernest Harsch is a research scholar at the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University. He worked on African issues at the United Nations for more than 20 years and is the author of South Africa: White Rule, Black Revolt.

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A Jacana Pocket Biography: Patrice Lumumba by Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja

A Jacana Pocket Biography: Patrice LumumbaPatrice Lumumba was a leader of the independence struggle in what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as the country’s first democratically elected prime minister. After a meteoric rise in the colonial civil service and the African political elite, he became a major figure in the decolonisation movement of the 1950s. Lumumba’s short tenure as prime minister (1960–1) was marked by an uncompromising defence of Congolese national interests against pressure from international mining companies and the Western governments that orchestrated his eventual demise.

Cold War geopolitical manoeuvring and well-coordinated efforts by Lumumba’s domestic adversaries culminated in his assassination at the age of thirty-five, with the support or at least the tacit complicity of the US and Belgian governments, the CIA, and the UN Secretariat. Even decades after Lumumba’s death, his personal integrity and unyielding dedication to the ideals of self-determination, self-reliance, and pan-African solidarity assure him a prominent place among the heroes of the 20th-century African independence movement and the worldwide African diaspora.

Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja’s short and concise book provides a contemporary analysis of Lumumba’s life and work, examining both his strengths and his weaknesses as a political leader. It also surveys the national, continental, and international contexts of Lumumba’s political ascent and his swift elimination by the interests threatened by his ideas and practical reforms.

“Lumumba … was a pivotal player in the history of African nationalism, in the same league as Mandela in terms of his influence. Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja provides an excellent short introduction to Lumumba’s life and historical significance.” – David N Gibbs, professor of history, University of Arizona

About the author

Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja is a professor of African, African American, and diaspora studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and professor emeritus of African studies at Howard University. He is a past president of the African Studies Association and the author of The Congo from Leopold to Kabila: A People’s History.

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A Jacana Pocket Biography: Emperor Haile Selassie by Bereket Habte Selassie

A Jacana Pocket Biography:Emperor Haile Selassie was an iconic figure of the twentieth century, a progressive monarch who ruled Ethiopia from 1916 to 1974. This book, written by a former state official who served in a number of important positions in Selassie’s government, tells both the story of the emperor’s life and the story of modern Ethiopia.

After a struggle for the throne in 1916, the young Selassie emerged first as regent and then as supreme leader of Ethiopia. Over the course of his nearly six-decade rule, the emperor abolished slavery, introduced constitutional reform, and expanded educational opportunity. The Italian invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930s led to a five-year exile in England, from which he returned in time to lead his country through World War II. Selassie was also instrumental in the founding of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963, but he fell short of the ultimate goal of a promised democracy in Ethiopia. The corruption that grew under his absolute rule, as well as his seeming indifference to the famine that gripped Ethiopia in the 1970s, led finally to his overthrow by the armed forces that he had created.

Haile Selassie was an enlightened monarch in many ways, but also a man with flaws like any other. This short biography is a sensitive portrayal of Selassie as both emperor and man, by one who knew him well.

“Emperor Haile Selassie is a readable, well-organised book that accurately portrays the life of the Ethiopian King of Kings and, through him, the history of the nation. The author is at his best in relating his personal experience and ties to the Emperor – original material that I found fascinating.” – Theodore M Vestal, author of The Lion of Judah in the New World: Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and the Shaping of Americans’ Attitudes toward Africa.

About the author

Bereket Habte Selassie is William E Leuchtenburg Professor of African Studies and Law, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and former attorney general of Ethiopia as well as associate justice of the Supreme Court of Ethiopia.

Book details


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