African Studies Quarterly

Letter to the Editor


Response to The Making of Contemporary Africa: The Development of African Society Since 1800. 2nd ed. Bill Freund. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., Boulder, 1998.
William H. Worger.


In a recent review that you published, Bill Worger produced comments on a book of mine so misleading as to require a short response. The new edition of The Making of Contemporary Africa is exactly that; it does not purport to be a new interpretation of African history. Were I interested in such an interpretation, I would write a different book with a different title. This book, exactly as claimed, was produced to assist admirers of the first edition who have liked using it for teaching purposes, but have wished for a chronological update. The first edition is no longer available.

The main visible change in the new edition, reflecting a lot of reading on my part, are the changed and amplified bibliographic notes suggesting further explorations for students, mainly with regard to the later chapters. This is the case for references to literature on African women where the text has changed very little because I felt it could stand as written. Worger complains about this but does not refer to the bibliographic notes.

The text itself, altered as well by occasional corrections or new examples, is updated by about fifteen years. The number of new pages added as a result is intended not to outsize but to reflect a sense of proportion so as to blend in with the existing text. I think I got this proportion about right, although of course events move on and the update is itself getting a bit out of date again.

Finally, there is the implication of a snide comment in the review on my somewhat critical assessment of the new South Africa as though this represented some kind of private disgruntlement on my part. In reality, the big structural problems that come out of South Africa's racially bifurcated historical development are not really being resolved in civil society. Economic growth is very slow, unemployment has increased, society has become extremely violent with a murder rate six times that of the USA, and the notoriously huge differentials in wealth, although less marked than before by race, are very much still in evidence. As an educator, I have to deal with the disastrous reality that the absolute number of young people who qualify by exam for university entrance in South Africa has fallen by about one-quarter since 1994. These deep problems are a constant part of the public discourse on the left, right and center, very much including the government, and cannot be wished away!

If Worger is one of those who finds it more convenient to use South African democratization largely as a happy ending to an American discourse about Africa, it is because he has failed to engage with how things look and actually are here.

Bill Freund
University of Natal, Durban