Book Reviews: Life In Colour, Or Bordering On Safe

June 10, 2018

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Colour Bar by Susan Williams                                                                    8

A Full Life by Jimmy Carter                                                                        8

South Africa’s Border War 1966 – 1989 by Willem Steenkamp              9

Safe People by Henry Cloud and John Townsend                                    6.5


Susan Williams is one of the distinguished group of historians and writers who grew up in the former British colonies in Southern Africa and who writes powerfully about the politics and personalities of this part of the world. This is her account of the life and times of Seretse Khama, first President of Botswana, and his wife Ruth. Adapted and produced as an engrossing film, the book is worth reading. No motion picture can give the same insight and depth of information as a well-documented and enthralling history. The story begins with the young Seretse arriving in Oxford, considers his difficulties in breaking through the informal but powerful colour prejudices of English society – even within the great university – and follows the beginning of his love relationship with Ruth Williams, an English insurance clerk, and their marriage – despite the opposition of her parents, his uncle (the Regent Tshekedi), the British Home Office and the Church of England. Race and the concept of “miscegenation” were dominant factors, though of course there was deep concern about her suitability as wife of the future ruler of his deeply traditional people. The Bechuanaland Protectorate, to become Botswana, was under indifferent British administration, under threat of incorporation into the Union of South Africa, and dependent for its revenues from a poorly developed rural economy and the earnings of miners working on the Witwatersrand. Colonial officials and white settlers believed in their own innate supremacy. This was also the period when there was a strong move to cobble Nyasaland and the Northern and Southern Rhodesias together into a white-dominated Central African Federation. The marriage of Seretse and Ruth was a challenge to the colonial structures and plans for the region. The Southern Rhodesian Parliament and the South African Prime Minister, DF Malan, were bitterly opposed to the thought that the First Family of Bechuanaland should be a “mixed marriage” couple. The tribal structures of Bechuanaland and of the Bangwato Tribe took a very different view. The great kgotla, the assembly of the people, after days of careful deliberation, resoundingly accepted the marriage and were anxious to see Seretse and Ruth installed. Ruth is welcomed as Mother of the People and gives birth to their first child in the Native Wards of the local hospital. The book is a gripping account of the “conspiracy of nations”, of the strident efforts of the colonial officials and of the British Government to ensure that Seretse did not take up his rightful place as Chief. It is a story of debates in the House of Commons, of mendacity and misrepresentation, of both Labour under Attlee and Conservatives under Churchill taking up positions and abandoning them. It is the story of the exile of Ruth and Seretse in England and of the growing political support for his reinstatement. It is set against the broader context of Britain’s loss of an Empire, the Suez Crisis, and the “winds of change” blowing across Africa. It is also the account of Seretse and Ruth’s quiet and dignified lives, their determination not to give in to anger and to seek retribution and of their eventual return to a Botswana which will see him not simply installed as a traditional ruler but as a democratically elected President. He and Ruth fulfilled their roles with energy and distinction, she continuing after his death with her major contribution to the welfare of the country. The book draws on many sources, not least the memoranda and papers of the British Government, including much which was at the time classified or suppressed information. This is worth reading because it is a deeply human story, but also because it must challenge 21st Century society to examine its own prejudices, its own structures and the reasons those in power compromise and lie. By the way, on a personal note, the book and film came under discussion at a lunch recently. The 70-year old son of Northern Rhodesian settlers told us firmly that Ruth Khama had been accepted by the women of the tribe only when she give birth to the first child in the local hospital; also (and this was said with a tilting of the elbow) “she tippled”. “His mother had known her”. So long are memories of childhood tales, so fixed are prejudices. – RH


The 39th president of the United States has written a straightforward, detailed and engrossing account of his youth on the family farm, his war-time experiences, his marriage, his entry into politics, his presidency, and his subsequent career as a senior statesman and facilitator in many fields, in many parts of the world. Obviously, it is Jimmy Carter writing about Jimmy Carter, but it brings to mind Romans 12.3: “I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement.” There is some material which appears in other volumes, and of course he has published prolifically. Anyone wanting to read more fully about the peace efforts in the Middle East, about his humanitarian work or about his period as President, should look at those other publications. This book contains some of the intimate events of his life, not previously made public. His military career is described in detail. He might well have remained in the navy, where he would have had a distinguished career. His involvement in the design of the first nuclear submarine is fascinating. We learn also of the tension between himself and his wife Rosalynn over his decision to return to farming. His entry into politics and his rise to membership of the Senate, to the governorship and then to the Presidency is described with disarming modesty. The media jibes about the “peanut farmer” ignored the early and rigorous training on a farm in self-reliance, hard work and enterprise, the energy, integrity and thorough planning, all of which made his political progress possible. He was no-one else’s candidate. There is a telling passage on the later emergence of “evangelical” or “Christian Right” politics. The election campaign which pitted Carter against Gerald Ford was as different as could be imagined from the Trump-Clinton campaign we have just observed. There was an agreement that neither candidate would solicit or accept corporate funding; both would rely on the Federal allocations. They would both, and did, debate policies and issues; there were no attempts to vilify each other. It was an honourable campaign. Carter includes useful synopses on issues he faced as President, amongst others the Koreas, the Three Mile Island nuclear scare and Panama. There is no question that his approaches to the Cuban question, to the B-1 bomber, to Cuba, to drug trafficking and other issues were justified in the long term. A second term would have seen some good outcomes. The Iranian hostage crisis, of course, cost him re-election. He was a man who did what he believed what was right rather than what the pollsters and media wanted. Thorough and careful and honest decisions are not always popular. He has also distinguished himself in his subsequent diplomatic and humanitarian work and won that recognition which evaded him in office. The Carter Center plays an important role nationally and internationally. His writing is singularly and refreshingly free of point-scoring, getting even or blaming. There are some surprising revelations though, for example Obama’s distancing of himself from Jimmy Carter. Even this is written without acrimony, rather with sadness. His gives enormous credit to Rosalynn Carter, speaking frankly about the maturing of their relationship and their mutual commitment. His own drawings and paintings are an additional interest in this volume. This is an easy-to-read, thoroughly engaging book. I recommend it highly. – RH


This book, brilliantly and objectively written, is for moms and dads whose sons served in the Border War, for the sons themselves who spent war time in the then South West Africa and Angola territory and for all of us who have wondered about this hidden period in South Africa’s history.  Steenkamp has revised his 1989 bestseller in this expanded edition, illustrated with many photographs. Soldiers returning from the battlefield do not, as a rule, talk much about their experiences, putting it all behind them. But, many years later, this book is a definitive account of what happened – the fighting, the talking, United Nations’ negotiations, failed peace initiatives, proposals and counter-proposals, endless political bickering, SANDF operations inside Angola, SWAPO insurgence across the border, the Unita factor, neighbouring countries’ involvement, Russian, Cuban, American politics – all of it leading towards Namibia’s independence. This is the full story of a 25-year-long war and its outcome. What it did for me, reading this book, was to make me realise how South Africa’s political and military leaders, air force pilots, navy teams and our fighting boys in the field,  stood up valiantly to counter a Russian lead imperialist threat. This is a collector’s item worth adding to your own book collection. – DB


The authors of Boundaries have written a new and very useful book of self-help psychology. Obviously it has, like Boundaries, definite limitations. There will be many who require professional therapy, but this volume will be a good starting point for many folk who are not in that category. The authors begin with a discussion on what a “safe” person is, drawing  from a wide experience of counselling: from university students who fail in the dating sphere to businessmen who have invested money in a “good friend”. And we all need to look at the people in our own ambit and the type of relationships we have with them, and why we are tied up with them at all. It is not simply a matter of “that person is unsafe”, but “who am I?” The detailed discussion of the traits of “unsafe” people is full of good sense, but salutary. Then follows the discussion on the ways “unsafe” people interact with others, how they parasitise, dominate, create dependencies and so forth. Again, the good doctors are diagnosing many of the ills of our lives in layman’s terms. There are good chapters on how we lost our “safety”, why we choose “unsafe” relationships, the false solutions we attempt, and why many of us have relational problems. Here the authors are taking us into introspection, speaking to those elements of our own personalities which are “unsafe”. A caution: this book assumes the possibility of back-up from safe groups, a typically American church scenario. Groups themselves can be problematic if they are not carefully and responsibly led. The book closes with the inevitable but tough question: do I stay in a relationship with an “unsafe” person, or do I break off? How does that square up with our Biblical responsibilities? This is not an easy issue to deal with. The books is good, readable, and digestible. Like Boundaries, it will leave its mark on churches seeking to help members to cope in an increasingly pressured social environment. – RH[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”default_sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]