Bring Me My Machine Gun: The Battle for the Soul of South Africa, from Mandela to Zuma

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Award-winning journalist Alec Russell was in South Africa to witness the fall of apartheid and the remarkable reconciliation of Nelson Mandela’s rule; and returned in 2007-2008 to see Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki, fritter away the country’s reputation. South Africa is now perched on a precipice, as it prepares to elect Jacob Zuma as president—signaling a potential slide back to the bad old days of post-colonial African leadership, and disaster for a country that was once the beacon of the continent.

Drawing on his long relationships with all the key senior figures including Mandela, Mbeki, Desmond Tutu, and Zuma, and a host of South Africans he has known over the years—including former activists turned billionaires and reactionary Boers—Alec Russell’s Bring Me My Machine Gun is a beautifully told and expertly researched account of South Africa’s great tragedy: the tragedy of hope unfulfilled.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Peter Godwin, author of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun
“A vivid portrait of post-apartheid South Africa, briskly depicting the dramas of a young nation and the telling threats to its future.”

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2009
Financial Times world news editor Russell offers a cogent study of the political perils ensnaring South Africa since the fall of apartheid…. An important dispatch from a journalist in the trenches.”

Booklist, review 4/15
“In open, journalistic style, Russell looks in depth and detail at the stalled dream of peace and reconciliation…. This is exciting contemporary history, a must for anyone concerned with what is happening now.”

Gillian Slovo, Financial Times, 4/4
Bring Me My Machine Gun, layered with anecdote, historical background and close scrutiny of recent events, stands as an informative, nuanced, and provocative end-of-era report…. A valuable contribution to the debate about the future of the rainbow nation. Alec Russell has looked at the country with a sympathetic and knowledgeable eye and he leaves his reader with a deep understanding of the challenges to come.”

Washington Post
“Sweeping, up-to-date…. Russell offers an acute look at the remarkable period when apartheid unraveled and a new political system under the African National Congress (ANC) took shape…. A compelling, bracing chronicle of the 15-year campaign to make the promise of 1994 a reality.”

Douglas Foster
Russell offers an acute look at the remarkable period when apartheid unraveled and a new political system under the African National Congress (ANC) took shape. Based on his reporting from 1990 to 1994 and another 18-month stay beginning in 2007, Russell reconstructs 15 years in the life of this emerging, still-fragile democracy. In the process, he goes a long way toward explaining how the country drifted from the reconciliatory rhetoric of Nelson Mandela through the cooler realism of Thabo Mbeki to the rank populism of Jacob Zuma…a compelling, bracing chronicle of the 15-year campaign to make the promise of 1994 a reality.
—The Washington Post
Kirkus Reviews
Financial Times world news editor Russell (Big Men, Little People: The Leaders Who Defined Africa, 2000, etc.) offers a cogent study of the political perils ensnaring South Africa since the fall of apartheid. The author admits that he, like many other interested observers, was "seduced by the outward signs of change" when the serene reign of moral leader Nelson Mandela was followed by technocrat Thabo Mbeki in 1999. At this time, a black middle class seemed to be emerging. However, by 2008 Mbeki had lost touch with the people and was ousted by his party, the African National Congress (ANC), paving the way for the populist insurgency of the largely uneducated, scandal-ridden "Big Man" Jacob Zuma. (The book's title is taken from Zuma's "signature anthem.") Having observed the charismatic Zuma in action, Russell compares him to "a revivalist preacher or the leader of a cult." The author tracks the numerous political pitfalls since Mandela's "sainthood," covering much of the same territory as South African journalist Mark Gevisser's upcoming biography of Thabo Mbeki, A Legacy of Liberation. Russell also considers some of the most pressing issues that the post-liberation country faces: the incendiary problem of race relations still plaguing whites and blacks, exacerbated by the huge disparity in wealth; internal rifts within the ANC, which had to adapt from a liberation movement to a modern political party; the culture of violence and failure of law enforcement; the urgent need for land-ownership reform; and the necessity of redressing Mbeki's disastrous denial of the AIDS epidemic. Casting their shadow over South Africa are numerous other sub-Saharan liberation movements that have morphedinto authoritarianism, corruption and ethnic strife, such as in Angola and Zimbabwe. Russell offers a sobering look at how South Africa must "buck [this] depressing trend."An important dispatch from a journalist in the trenches. Agent: Annabel Merullo/PFD
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586487386
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 4/13/2009
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 858,713
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Alec Russell is World News Editor at the Financial Times, and formerly their Johannesburg bureau chief. He previously covered the wars in the former Yugoslavia and Africa for the Daily Telegraph and was its foreign editor from 2001–2003. From 2003–2006 he was based in Washington, D.C., and covered the Bush administration. He is the author of two books and lives in London.
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