A History of South Africa

Third Edition

Leonard Thompson

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A leading scholar of South Africa provides a fresh and penetrating exploration of that country’s history, from the earliest known human inhabitation of the region to the present, focusing primarily on the experiences of its black inhabitants. For this third edition, Leonard Thompson adds two new chapters that describe the transfer of power and the new South Africa under the presidencies of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

Leonard Thompson is Charles J. Stillé Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University and director of the former Yale Southern African Research Program. He has written and edited many books, including The Political Mythology of Apartheid, The Frontier in History (with Howard Lamar), and South African Politics (with Andrew Prior), all published by Yale University Press.

"This is an outstanding book and in every sense of the world, 'revisionist.'  It reflects sound scholarship and is highly readable as well."—John S. Galbraith, University of California, San Diego
"I did not think it was possible for a white person to write a history of South Africa which a black South African would find to be a fair and accurate account of a beautiful land and its people. Leonard Thompson has disabused me of that notion. His is a history that is both accurate and authentic, written in a delightful literary style."—Archbishop Desmond Tutu

"This is a book that fills a great need. As an up-to-date and authoritative summary of South African history by one of the world's leading experts on the subject, it will tell students, citizens, and policymakers what they need to know about the deep roots of the current South African imbroglio."—George M. Fredrickson, Edgar E. Robinson Professor of U. S. History, Stanford University

"Leonard Thompson has given us a profound and comprehensive look into the broad sweep of South African history and the painful but promising present it holds. Well researched and beautifully written, A History of South Africa is a must for any serious student of South Africa. It is precise, concise, fecund, and fascinating. Thompson, with the historian's eye and decades of experience in South Africa, presents a real treasure in a literary landscape rife with 'instant experts.'"—Senator Dick Clark, Director of the Southern Policy Forum, The Aspen Institute, Washington, D. C.

"From Yale historian Thompson, a timely and commendable endeavor: a South African history that's as much the story of blacks and coloreds as of whites."—Kirkus Reviews

"This magisterial history throws a floodlight on South Africa's current crisis by examining the past. The absurdity of the apartheid philosophy of racial separatism is underscored by the author's argument (backed with convincing research material) that the genes of the nation's first hunter-gatherers are inextricably mixed with those of modern blacks and whites. . . . Thompson, a specialist in South African history, expertly relates how the Afrikaners—still poor, scattered and disunited in 1854—threw off Dutch and British hegemony to forge their own national identity, forcibly uprooting and relocating millions of blacks."—Publishers Weekly

"Thompson has produced an excellent overview of South African history which reflects the most current trends in scholarship. Written for the general reader, it emphasizes political history, especially as related to the development of race relations. . . . [This] succinct book reads more like an interpretive essay designed to highlight those themes most important for an understanding of the problems facing South Africa."—Library Journal

"Scholarly, authoritative, and highly readable."—Booklist

"Written by one of the most respected authorities on South African history, this new synthesis strongly reflects the author's long study of the subject and his command of recent scholarship. Another engaging feature is his smooth, effective prose style. . . . Forceful and convincing. . . . The best introduction to the subject for the average reader."—Choice

 "By far the most substantial and informative general textbook on the subject written in recent years. . . . [Thompson's] new work is a radical revision of the approach adopted in [his] earlier work and demonstrates dramatically the movement that has taken place in South African historiography in the last two decades. Here is a skilled historian integrating a wide range of research findings in an entirely lucid and readable synthesis. . . . A thoroughly impressive book. What we have here is an integrated well-structured, readable history that goes back before the arrival of Bantu-speaking farmers, and comes up to the present day. It reveals a good teacher at work, displaying his intimidating command of the intricacies of South African history, yet in a way that would confound no serious and intelligent student."—Tim Keegan, Southern African Review of Books

"The text is basic for any reader who wishes to comprehend the historical patterns that preface the struggles that seethe and boil in this country. A careful, reliable book for student research."—School Library Journal

"In this concise but rich new text, South Africa's most eminent emigré historian draws on the findings of both radical and liberal scholarship of the 1970s and 1980s, and strikes an appealing balance in his interpretation of the strengths, vulnerabilities, intentions, and perspectives of contending interests—race, class, culture, and gender—that have vied over the years for a place in South Africa's sun. This is a work of insight and durability that is certain to assist South Africa's coming generation of nation-builders to reach a more objective understanding of their past."—Foreign Affairs

"Mr. Thompson begins his history with the herders, hunters, and farmers who were the ancestors of the country's black population, then moves on to the slave society established by the Dutch East India Company at the Cape of Good Hope, the gold and diamond industries that set the stage for a segregated labor force, the creation of the Union of South Africa, and the establishment of apartheid."—Karen J. Winkler, Chronicle of Higher Education

"Concentrating on southern Africa's black inhabitants, rather than on its white minority, this work has received universal praise from scholars and activists alike."—Washington Post Book World

"An elegant look at the historical development of South African society and the system of apartheid, this work incorporates new scholarship."—Booknotes

"Thompson has written a most useful introduction to the history of South Africa. It lays out the major historiographical issues so that interested readers can explore the literature, to which he has already so substantially contributed."—Bruce Fetter, Social Science Quarterly

"Thompson's history of South Africa begins not with the European entry into southern Africa but with the presence of black Africans—farmers and hunters—who lived in or migrated to the area from adjoining regions and who are the earliest known inhabitants of the present-day country. . . . Intensive study of more recent historical events, particularly apartheid and the fact that the black majority is ruled and subjugated by the white minority. . . . Thompson sets the scene for continuing conflict with his prediction that the nation will be transformed by means peaceful or otherwise."—John Brosnahan, Booklist

"His book should become the standard general text for South African history. It is recommended for college classes and anyone interested in obtaining a historical framework in which to place events occurring in South Africa today."—Roger B. Beck, History: Reviews of New Books

"Contains a wealth of analytical comment on African societies. . . . As a model of carefully planned, carefully tooled history, it will take a lot of beating. It is also a remarkably elegant volume to hold."—T. R. H. Davenport, South African Historical Journal

"Thompson has produced an excellent overview of South African history which reflects the most current trends in scholarship. Written for the general reader, it emphasizes political history, especially as related to the development of race relations. . . . Given Thompson's importance in the field . . . this work is recommended for most libraries."—Library Journal

"Leonard Thompson has written a volume that will serve very admirably in undergraduate courses and for those who seek a succinct history of South Africa. A model of compression, it reads very well and is handsomely illustrated."—Bill Freund, International Journal of African Historical Studies

"Highly recommended. . . . This highly readable book is sure to become widely prescribed for undergraduate students. For a neatly compressed, readable, authoritative account of South African history, this book will take some surpassing."—Paul Maylam, Journal of African History

"The full sweep of [South African] oppression is registered by Thompson in great detail, aided by a clear writing style, a chronology highlighting key historical events, and a judicious selection of tables, maps, and photographs."—Alvin Magid, Perspectives on Political Science

"A lucid and authoritative general history of South Africa, from the earliest times to the end of 1989. . . . Thompson's book is a smooth and seamless synthesis of a vast range of source materials. It is well written and therefore easily read. . . . Thompson's book is excellent narrative history."—Colin Murray, Journal of Historical Geography

"A terrific book for high school and public libraries. . . . Perfectly designed to provide background and perspective on fast-changing events. . . . Remarkably balanced in tone and judgment."—Daniel J. Levinson, Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide

"In a magisterial work, Thompson examines South Africa's current crisis in terms of past clashes involving the Dutch and British invaders."—Publishers Weekly

"In A History of South Africa Leonard Thompson again proves his mettle as an historian by augmenting his own insights with the best of those of his erstwhile critics. . . . The greatest strength of this work is its presentation of such a sweeping and complex history in some of the most lucid prose to be found in such a text. It is an excellent choice for an introductory course, as well as one of the best windows for the general reader to gain perspective on contemporary South Africa."—Donald Will, Africa Today
"An admirably objective history of South Africa . . . [that] will be most useful in contemplating the country's future."—Lorna Hahn, New York Times Book Review
"An authoritative text by a distinguished historian."—Beverley Naidoo, Times Educational Supplement
ISBN: 9780300087765
Publication Date: February 8, 2001
416 pages, 5 x 7 3/4
10 maps
A History of South Africa, Fourth Edition

Leonard Thompson; Revised and Updated by Lynn Berat

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