Leonard Thompson, in A History of South Africa, attempts to perform a difficult task for a white author---to write an accurate and fair history of a troubled, racist-ridden nation, focusing on the experiences of the blacks who have suffered as a result of that racism. The fact that the black South African leader Desmund Tutu himself has praised Thompson's book lets us know that the author has succeeded. If we had any doubts about the author's dedication to the truth, those doubts are eased when in his preface he takes pains to differentiate among the different South African groups he means to analyze and understand. The first step in racism is to clump together the people one wants to hate, so the first step in eliminating racism is to differentiate these groups and individuals (xiii-xiv).
Thompson sets before himself quite a challenge. He aims to portray South Africa from the beginning of recorded history to the early 1990s. This effort is not based simply on a wish to be comprehensive, but rather on the belief that one must know the past in order to be effective in the present: "Modern Western culture is inordinately present-minded. Politicians are ignorant of the past." For example, some
historians are so committed to emphasizing the role of capitalism as the molder of modern Southern Africa that they ignore the processes that shaped society before Europeans began to intrude in the region (1).
Thompson's book is a successful effort to show that the foundations of South Africa were established long before the "intrusion" of whites in that nation. clearly, then, there is a bias in the work. The question is, whether that bias, stated clearly and honestly by the author, is supported by the historical evidence. The answer is, just as clearly, yes. Thompson shows that the black people of Southern Africa had established various successful strategies for social, economic and political development, long before the arrival of "white...