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Frontiers: The Epic of South Africa's Creation and the Tragedy of the Xhosa People Hardcover – June 23, 1992


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1355 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st American ed edition (June 23, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679401369
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679401360
  • Product Dimensions: 2.8 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,219,445 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This book masterfully reinterprets the founding era of South Africa, especially the 19th century, to emphasize not the Afrikaners but the conflict between British colonials and the indigenous Xhosa people. Drawing on virtually forgotten government records and vivifying little-known people, Mostert ( Supership ) has done for South Africa what Robert Hughes did for Australia in The Fatal Shore . Mostert places South Africa in the framework, both geographical and moral, of world colonial expansion; Britain's Cape Colony, site of an experiment in political liberalism, illustrates the era's tension "between high-minded conscience and self-interest." To reconstruct this "crucible of modern South African society," the author conjures up multiple worlds in passages often intricate and lyrical, though the depth of detail may deter readers. He draws on historiography, geography, linguistics and archeology to portray the European scramble for Africa, the cosmology of the indigenous Bushmen and the lives of the Afrikaners and the Zulus but eventually focuses on the British settlers and the Cape Xhosas, a proud people with traditions of democratic debate, communal land and welcoming of strangers. Their interactions animate a narrative rich in drama: the British began "probably the most callous act of mass settlement in the entire history of empire"; the Cape was the first society to attempt to legislate an interracial state; and when the Xhosas, decimated by the frontier wars and vulnerable to prophecy, killed their cattle and thus many of themselves, it was "probably the greatest self-inflicted immolation of a people in all history." Mostert concludes that the Cape Colony, where the nonracial franchise continued to contract until it vanished under 20th-century apartheid, "represents one of the greatest of lost ideals within human society." Photos not seen by PW . BOMC, History Book Club and QPB alternates.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This monumental work deals primarily with conflicts between the Xhosa and white colonizers, culminating in the 1850s when the tribe invited mass starvation by killing their cattle and destroying their food, convinced that this would drive away the British. It also chronicles the moral struggle within the British Empire over the treatment of nonwhite populations. These two dramas shaped white attitudes toward Africa and Africans that lasted well into the 20th century and still affect South African politics. The author, a South African-born journalist now living in Canada, spent several years researching this well-written, absorbing narrative which, while aimed at the general public, belongs in academic as well as public libraries. History Book Club and Quality Paperback Book Club alternates.
- Paul H. Thomas, Hoover Inst. Lib., Stanford, Cal.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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The style is fluid and compelling.
Graham Henderson
An excellent study of a people and a nation and a study that shows that African tribal wars were just as destructive as the europeans.
Seth J. Frantzman
A must read for students of African history!
Nondas Bellos

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Graham Henderson on May 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a riveting, tautly written, "page-turner". And thank heavens, because it clocks in at a whopping 1300 pages. But do NOT let that deter you. If Africa is of interest to you then you NEED to, you MUST, read this book. The period under study dates from the earliest explorations of South Africa (late 1400s) to the late 1800s.
Mostert's approach is sensitive and balanced - as the subtitle conveys "The Epic of South Africa's Creation and the Tragedy of the Xhosa People". It is narrative in format and the experience (and indeed the pleasure) of reading this book is not dissimilar from that of reading Shelby Foote's monumental three volume "The Civil War: A Narrative". The flyleaf describes "Frontiers" as having a "Gibbonesque sweep" and this is extremely apt.
There are good maps, though too few of them. The style is fluid and compelling. The descriptions of the landscape are wonderfully evocative. This book provides everything that one needs to understand that tragedy that unfolded in modern day South Africa. One is left yearning for the paradise that was so clearly lost.
One of the best ways for me to recommend this book to you is by excerpting a passage:
"It was a battle that fell into complete obscurity.... It was, so to speak, an event without a name, a four-hour long retreat along a wagon road, an agonizing struggle, yard by yard, mile by mile. It was a severe humiliation....which may have helped dim its historic judgement. Yet not again until Rorke's Drift some eighteen years on would the British army again fight and die in such a brave, cruel and intimate scuffle on the African veld. There were to be no medals or recognition for the infantryman of the 91st on the road between Forts Hare and Cox on 29 December 1850.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Seth J. Frantzman HALL OF FAME on March 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Most books on S. Africa focus on three things: Aparthied, The Boer War or the Zulu, with Mandela being a close fourth. This book focuses on the real south Africa, the Xhosa people and the tragedy that befell them as Zulu, Boer and British invasions destroyed their way of life. An excellent study of a people and a nation and a study that shows that African tribal wars were just as destructive as the europeans.
A must read for anyone interested in Africans, Africa or colonialism and the survival of native cultures.
Seth J. Frantzman
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Nondas Bellos on June 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Easily one of the most impressive books I have read. Frontiers is a book that covers broad sweeps of history and culture in a balanced and informative way. Although it is lengthy (over 1,200 pages), it captures one's interest to such a degree that one is actually left with wanting more!

A noticeable theme for me was the role and importance of individuals in shaping history. For example, Harry Smith, Governor of the Cape Colony, who had a profoundly negative influence on the Xhosa people, yet was admirable in other ways (having served in the American Colonies, Europe, and India-- perhaps one of the first sons of globalization). Similarly, the powerful influence of the London Missionary Society, and by extension, religion in general in setting the course of human events.

A must read for students of African history!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By T. E. Leonard on May 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Mostert's history of South Africa was one of those rare sorts of reads that wherever you begin to try to describe it all you can come up with are superlatives that verge on exaggeration. Never before had I recognized the parallels of historical events in which eighteenth and nineteenth century European colonialists---in Africa and America---with self-professed Christian values, put to the test their noble beliefs. Such moral rectitude was in no way translated in the way each dealt with their native populations. Mostert exhaustive analysis provides an important chronicle on the effects of European colonialism in dismantling a once proud Xhosa nation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Chris Morrell on October 2, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found the topic profoundly interesting. I come from the Eastern cape of South Africa and lived among the AmaXhosa. One of my ancestors was at the battle of Grahamstown and had a high command in the wars there until about 1856. The geography, individual stories and history all struck a cord. I know now why us Eastern Capers are unique and now I have such better insights. into my background and culture. And what interested me was how our history and struggles had world wide significance. .
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