Apartheid’s Reluctant Uncle

Between 1945 and 1952, American foreign policy was shaped by an alarming perception of an increasingly aggressive Soviet Union. This fact, Borstelmann argues, accounts for American support of the racist government in South Africa, elected in 1948 to codify the system of apartheid, a segregation of the races which the United States itself was dedicated to eradicating in the wake of its defeat of Nazi Germany, the most ruthless racist government of the century.

Rich in uranium, South Africa was deemed especially valuable to a nuclear power, and the anti-Communism of the South African government made it more palatable to American policymakers, who believed that the containment of Communism justified alliances with undemocratic and even racist regimes. A contributing factor to this American support of South Africa was ignorance of the African continent. Borstelmann deftly demonstrates how vague American perceptions of Africa were, shaped mainly by Hollywood movies and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC photographs of an exotic land of natives and wild animals.

Borstelmann has written a sober but engrossing monograph on an aspect of the Cold War that has received little attention. His extensive notes cite and explain most of the available scholarship, leaving his text to read clearly and concisely. His tone is objective, though he clearly suggests that the overriding preoccupation with containing Communism undermined America’s laudable anti-colonialist and anti-racist policies.