Tim McKee, Anne Blackshaw. No More Strangers Now: Young Voices From A New South Africa. New York: DK Publishing, 1998. xviii + 107 pp. $19.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7894-2524-9.
Reviewed by Manelisi Genge (Department of History, Michigan State University, East Lansing)
Published on H-AfrTeach (March, 1999)
This book is written by two persons from diverse academic backgrounds: McKee, a teacher and a journalist, and Blackshaw, an anti-apartheid activist, a former women's and civil rights advocate in the California legislature, and a photographer. Thus, the book itself could not be easily classified according to the academic disciplines: it is neither history nor an English novel. Educators at Middle and High schools might find this book useful in teaching multiculturalism or diversity.
The work is based entirely on the interviews with twelve teenagers representing various ethnic backgrounds of the South African society. The interviews were conducted by Tim McKee and Anne Blackshaw mainly in English and to some extent with the help of a translator for informants who preferred to express themselves in any of the many South African languages. The data was collected over a ten month period, between 1996 to 1997. This book borrows its title from a poem by one of the renowned South African poets, Mongane Wally Serote, No More Strangers.
The suitable audience for this work is both Middle School (ages 12-14), and High School (ages 15-18) students. The object of the book is captured in its authors' view, "we chose the twelve teens you will meet here not only because they came from a wide range of social, economic, ethnic, and geographic backgrounds, but also because they were able to speak openly about their experiences under apartheid and their attempts to carve out a role for themselves in the new South Africa" (p. xvi). In this sense, this book has managed to identify "the ordinary," to borrow Njabulo S. Ndebele's phrase, in the voices of the teenagers. And by so doing, it departures from a tradition of main-stream writing of the era of apartheid where the state and the white establishments in general occupy the center stage. It does not only focus on how teenagers experienced the apartheid era and on their views of the emerging post-apartheid South Africa, but also puts these teenagers at the center of the story as its narrator. Here, we see how the creation of space for teenagers to tell us their experiences and expectations in their own words, could provide us with a window to their world-view, instead of adults imposing theirs on teenagers. This work also breaks away from the genre of the literature of resistance or struggle against white domination in South Africa. Being the exception for this kind of literature, the authors are not concerned about the "other" in the shape of the all powerful minority white government. Instead, the book is concerned with how these teenagers have survived the apartheid era and how they perceive their future in the country. In this sense, these teenagers view themselves as "the generation that's the bridge from the previous South Africa to a new one" (p. xiv).
The Introduction--written in simple, lucid language--provides a useful historical background of the country. The book's text also includes many pictures, which complement the main story. Teenagers from other countries will find it interesting to read narrators' tales on some things universal to teenagers' view on life. The work also provides us with a glimpse of the concept of ubuntu, which is interwoven through the expressions of its main actors. The former Archbishop Desmond Tutu defines ubuntu as "the essence of being human ... It embraces compassion and toughness. It recognizes that my humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together" (quoted by the authors of this book, p. xvii). In the post-apartheid South Africa, this concept of ubuntu is viewed as one of the foundations upon which reconciliation is to be forged. Then, indeed, if the teenagers in the country share such a view, there is reason for some of us to be optimistic about the future of the country, in spite of its ugly and inhuman past. This book has received the blessings of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has written its foreword. This is not surprising, for the book adds an aspect to Tutu's task of presiding over the recently completed work of the Truth and the Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a statutory body established by President Nelson Mandela's government in 1994 to investigate the gross human injustices or violations of the past during the struggle against apartheid governments. The book partially chronicles the experiences of the teenagers, that do not fall within the category of the gross human violations during the apartheid era--as defined in Tutu's terms of reference for his TRC. By so doing, it provides its informants with a forum from which to express their past experiences and optimism about the future, a platform which was not provided for in Tutu's TRC. (The report of Tutu's TRC came out toward the end of 1998).
The work could have benefitted from insights of other published works. Although it is interesting to read about what one would call "teenagers' naivety" and enthusiasm as captured in this work, it is also important to recognize that such teenager naivety and enthusiasm usually give way to other established ways or norms of life. To put it differently, teenagers ought to be made aware of other societal forces which mold and shape their views about life as they become older. And the work under review has failed to provide its audience with such forces. And this stems from the point that the authors of this work neglect any published works from which to illuminate their story. Teenagers could make fundamental changes in their lives as grown-ups, if they have a background knowledge of what they want to transform and how others before them have either attempted to do so, failed to do so or did not try to change anything at all.
Therefore, both the actors of this story and the larger audience, especially teachers who would wish to use this book in their classes, could overcome this book's deficiency by reading some of the following works: Ndebele as cited above; J.M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians, New York: Penguin Books, 1982 edition; Bloke Modisane, Blame Me on History, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990 edition; and (though not concerned with South Africa, it has relevance to the era under discussion) Lillian Smith, Killers of the Dream, New York: W.W. Norton, 1978 edition.
There are other minor and technical aspects of the book which I would like to draw our attention to: On certain parts this book employs dated phrases such as "nonwhite" (p. xv). It would be helpful to readers to periodize, that is, to insert dates of the events on the paragraph which begins with the word, But, on (p. 2). I am of the opinion that the correct spelling is "Nofezile," instead of "Nofozile" (p. 30). The latest orthography is "isiXhosa," instead of "Xhosa" (p. 38). The South African government unbanned the anti-apartheid organizations in 1990, and not in 1991 (p. 46). "Afrikaners" instead of "Afrikaans" (p. 98). There is no need to write the word, "white," since there is a reference to the British and Afrikaners (pp. 97-98). Of course, it could be pointed out that these two groups were not the only whites in South Africa. The authors should write "apartheid is" instead of "apartheid's" (p. 100), and insert the word, "of," in "I think people ... my age" (p. 101). This reviewer is troubled by the use of the term "New" when referring to post-apartheid South Africa. I have discussed my reservations on this usage elsewhere. (See my review for H-AfrTeach from June 1998, on Tim Nuttal, et al., From Apartheid to Democracy: South Africa,1948-1994.) When does a country become new?
Notwithstanding the above shortcomings of this work, I would recommend it for teaching multiculturalism or diversity to High School students with South Africa as a case study. It opens up a new kind of literature in post-apartheid or post-colonial South Africa which targets teenagers as its audience. However, the book ought not be taken as a textbook on South African history, for it lacks historical grounding. It would be helpful for both teachers and students to read it together with one or more supplementary materials, for example, including the ones I have mentioned above.
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Manelisi Genge. Review of McKee, Tim; Blackshaw, Anne, No More Strangers Now: Young Voices From A New South Africa.
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