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Shades of Difference: Mac Maharaj and the Struggle for South Africa Hardcover – April 19, 2007

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this groundbreaking biography of a central figure in the fight to end South African apartheid, O'Malley draws on every aspect of Maharaj's life and the society in which he lived in order to understand South Africa's changing racial and political context over the past 100 years. Based on extensive interviews with Maharaj, this is an often harrowing read, recounting his torture as a political prisoner and the many difficulties and setbacks suffered by underground activists within and outside of South Africa. Maharaj—a first-person narrator in most of the book—comes across as an imperfect and deeply human hero, animated by his stubborn streak to devote his entire life to the cause. Few people have had a more eventful life, and the book has some of the flavor of spy vs. spy: "My blazer was stolen from the bedroom of our hideout. In the blazer, which was part of my disguise, was three thousand dollars. The blazer had my pocket diary, in the inside cover of which I had written key contact numbers." A lengthy foreword by Nelson Mandela touches on his relationship with Maharaj, his decision to make him minister of transport in the first free South African government, and the time they shared imprisoned on Robben Island. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

Nelson Mandela's expansive foreword to this work expresses his regard for its subject, Satyandranath Ragunanan Maharaj. Mandela was imprisoned with him by South Africa's apartheid government and appointed Maharaj as minister in the first postapartheid government in 1994. Aware of his importance, O'Malley, a professor of politics, persuaded the wary Maharaj, born in 1935 and a veteran of clandestine affairs (printing and bomb making, to be specific) in the South African Communist Party, to tell his life story. O'Malley prefaces each segment of Maharaj's arc with corresponding political developments in the enforcement of apartheid and in Mandela's resistance organization, the African National Congress. Clearly important for scholars, O'Malley's effort has a directness that can remind general readers of the nature of apartheid. Maharaj relays myriad examples of living in the web of racial regulations, and the price in jail time, torture, and family stress that he paid for his fight against them. Pairing Maharaj's personal experiences with political history, O'Malley brings needed attention to a significant associate of Mandela. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (April 19, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670852333
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670852338
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,789,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By R. S. Berry on February 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a vitally important book for understanding the transition to democracy in South Africa. O'Malley leaves no stones unturned and while much has been written about South Africa's transformation too few authors have asked the really hard questions and dug up the hard to find facts of what went on behind the scenes. O'Malley does this hard work. In this book readers will find never before published underground communications, look into secret missions, but most importantly understand the physical and emotional pain involved in being a true rebel. No film could equal the real life drama that unfolds in this story. Some of the early pages are a bit slow, but give this book time and you will be rewarded with a unique story of intrigue, violence, revolution, love, change, rise and fall-- and rise again. This is a beautiful and necessary work that should not be missed.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Shades of Difference" is a remarkable book about Mac Maharaj, a remarkable activist and communist who played a huge role in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. The book is nuanced, well-written, and thoroughly documented. The description of life in the underground (specifically, of Operation Vula) is fascinating and of great historical value. For a schoarly work, "Shades of Difference" is a page-turner.

I took off one star only because the story of Mac's life trails off in the early 1990s after the ANC is unbanned and Vula comes to an end, even though Mac's career wasn't over. There's little discussion of his time as Minister of Transport and none of his time at First Rand bank. Disastrously, the book ends in 2006 (the year of publication), with Mac portrayed as a lonely man of integrity who has been forced to take a teaching job in Vermont because he's so out of step with the paranoia and corruption of Mbeki's ANC. Alas, the reader in 2016 knows that Mac didn't stay long in Vermont but returned to South Africa to become an insider in the Zuma Administration, which has set new records for corruption. Anyone reading the book today can only wonder how deep Mac's principles really were. Zuma taints everyone.

Bad timing, but a great book. The author should write a new afterword to bring the story up to date.
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By Liam on January 20, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A great perspective on the ANC activities
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