In Foreign Native, RW Johnson looks back with affection and humour on his life in Africa. From schooldays in Durban – fresh off the plane from Merseyside – to later years as an academic, director of the Helen Suzman Foundation and formidable political commentator, he has produced an entertaining and occasionally eye-popping memoir brimming with history, anecdote and insight.
Johnson charts his evolution from enthusiastic, left-leaning Africanist to political realist, relating episodes that influenced his intellectual worldview, including time spent among the exiled liberation movements in London during the 1960s, a sojourn in newly independent Guinea and more recent forays into Zimbabwe. There are wonderful stories, some hilarious, others filled with pathos, about the multitude of characters – Harold Strachan, Tom Sharpe, Ronnie Kasrils, Helen Suzman, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, among many others – that he met along the way.
Perceptive, critical and full of verve, Foreign Native is leavened with a deep humanity that makes it a pleasure to read.
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I love these kind of books, and this one is no exception. I have a passion for southern Africa, and I am intrigued by the people, politics, history, wildlife, literature, you name it. I enjoyed reading Foreign Native, because once again I get a fresh perspective from someone who has lived through different times of South Africa's history. South Africa has so much to give. South Africa has also taken a lot from so many. Johnson knows he hasn't always been the most popular person amongst people with some sort of power. I think it comes with the territory. If you say out loud the things that others either avoid or deny, you'll become a difficult person. It's just that someone has to talk about all the injustice. Someone has to take the first step. It is no secret that South Africa is far from perfect. Life post Apartheid has had many challenges, and corruption is one of the biggest problems. I like the style of the book. It is also very personal, since Johnson has met many interesting people during his life, and they have all made an impact on him. If you only meet people exactly like you how will you ever really understand the world and what is going on? You will not. I bet I could listen to the author for hours. We would probably have many great conversations. I often find it that people who have lived in several countries have great perspectives of things. You often need to step outside to understand what is going on inside. Johnson has seen how politics works and how it doesn't work, and I feel like he's seen it as an outsider inside the system, if you get what I mean. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the different characters, weather famous politicians or his personal friends. Naturally it was easier for me to reflect on things written about people like the Mandelas and Mugabe, people I have read a lot about. I think enough time has passed since Apartheid that we only now get to read about many hidden ans shameful things, and we are finally slowly learning about so many things formerly not talked about. I believe there are still many things we will learn. I could have kept on reading this book for many more hours, sadly it had to end at some point. I might not fully agree about everything with the author, but I was surprised to see how many things I feel the same about. I think this book is easy enough to read even though you might not be that much into politics, or you might not know too much about southern Africa. I believe it will give you a new perspective on things, and even a yearn to learn more.