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Shades of Difference: Mac Maharaj and the Struggle for South Africa.

Shades of Difference: Mac Maharaj and the Struggle for South Africa



ISBN: 978-0-670-085233-8

PRICE $32.95

Shades of Difference: Mac Maharaj and the Struggle for South Africa by Padraig O'Malley is essential reading for anyone who wants an in-depth understanding of the movement to end South African apartheid. In the minds of many, Nelson Mandela has been the most well known and visible figure in the struggle against apartheid. Shades of Difference is the biography of another central, yet lesser known, participant in the fight to end apartheid and secure rights for black South Africans, Mac Maharaj.

Through extensive interviews with Maharaj and others involved in the movement, O'Malley introduces the reader to Maharaj and his commitment to the struggle. Each chapter begins with O'Malley's analysis of the events and is followed by Majaraj's own reflections, which gives the reader a more complete view of what transpired. This structure provides the reader with not only an understanding of the essence and motivations of Maharaj, but an up close view of what went on behind the scenes. O'Malley is meticulous in his research, uncovering information that was previously unavailable.

O'Malley begins by describing Maharaj's early life and the political conditions of the time, which in turn, laid the foundations for understanding later events. Maharaj was born in 1935 as South African of Indian descent. His father wanted him to become a teacher, but his attitude toward authority and rebellion, caused him to leave his insular Indian community to pursue a career as a lawyer. This dream was difficult to realize because, in the segregated university system, there was no such thing as a law degree for black students. This discrimination caused Maharaj to become a Marxist and join various movements to end apartheid in South Africa including the South African Communist Party and the African National Congress where he made pipe bombs, printed pamphlets, and smuggled fellow militants out of the country.

Maharaj's anti-apartheid activity resulted in his arrest and twelve year prison term on Robben Island where he met Nelson Mandela. During this period, Maharaj was brutally tortured by South African security forces. However, Maharaj never broke down and continued his anti-apartheid activities from prison, where he devised a method to communicate with ANC members on the outside and minimized Nelson Mandela's biography and smuggled it out of prison.

After his release from prison, Maharaj left South Africa and traveled to Lusaka, Zambia where he continued his anti-apartheid activities. By the mid-1980's, he was a senior ANC member and headed the Vula project with his second wife Zarina. This operation involved setting up a communications system that allowed the underground in South Africa to stay in touch with Lusaka and to connect and communicate with all of the decentralized contingents of the struggle. However, Maharaj was arrested again in 1990 and charged with terrorism. He was detained for several months before his release on bail. Eventually, the charges against him were dropped.

In 1994, Nelson Mandela appointed Maharaj minister of transport in South Africa's first post apartheid government. He served as a member of Mandela's cabinet until he retired from politics to spend more time with his family and provide for them financially. Maharaj, however, did not find peace in retirement. He was accused of taking bribes years after he quit politics.

In Shades of Difference, O'Malley expertly illustrates Maharaj's total commitment to the struggle against apartheid and the extraordinarily high price he paid for that commitment. Maharja undertook an extremely wide range of activities during his decades long commitment from making pipe bombs and preparing pamphlets early in the struggle, to continuing militant activities while imprisoned on Robben Island, and finally, heading Operation Vula while in exile. Maharaj's all or nothing commitment left deep scars on his personal life. His first marriage ended in divorce. He spent the majority of his time away from his second wife and two children. He was not present when his second wife Zarina was involved in a very serious car accident and was forced to recover alone in a Russian hospital. Maharaj's children grew up without him and often heard stories that he was suffering from extreme health problems and had to go abroad for medical treatment. As a result, he was in and out of their lives for long periods of time and these stories of his illness left deep emotional scars. The allegations of corruption after he retired from his position in Mandela's cabinet forced his children to endure the public humiliation of their father.

Finally, O'Malley examines the realities and shortcomings of South Africa's transition to democracy. He states that with freedom came ordinariness. The struggle for equality between the races metastasized into something hollow and cynical. Economic disparities between the haves and the have nots continue to exist. More people than ever live in squatter camps without equal access to free education. HIV/AIDS claims hundreds of thousands of lives each year and the government fails to take any action against this deadly virus. And corruption at the local levels of government is widespread.

Shades of Difference brings needed attention to Maharaj, a lesser known associate of Nelson Mandela. The book is long and in the beginning, the reading is a bit slow. The extensive use of footnotes and acronyms also adds to the early tedium. However, it provides a unique story of revolution, intrigue, torture, and sacrifice. The depth of understanding provided in Shade of Difference is something that every serious student of South African apartheid should experience. Stay with the book and you will not be disappointed.

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Author:Wilson, Shirley A.
Publication:The Western Journal of Black Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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