Nelson Mandela is no stranger to Indians. India was in the forefront of support to the freedom struggle led by Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC). This struggle and the history of South Africa since the Dutch landed in 1652 has been vividly brought out by renowned author and biographer Dominique Lapierre in his book A Rainbow in the Night. The book is not just a historical account but it is an epic that captures the essence and romance of the birth of a nation and its people comprising whites, blacks and coloured races.
Dominique Lapierre is known to Indians as the author and co-author of two books on India: The City of Joy and & Freedom at Midnight, respectively. Both are highly acclaimed books and need no introduction. Lapierre’s books on India and his philanthropic work with Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta earned him the civilian honour Padma Bhushan in 2008.
‘A Rainbow in the Night’ is Lapierre’s second book about a nation’s freedom struggle (after Freedom at Midnight about India’s freedom movement). He traces South Africa’s history, the first landings by the Dutch and their establishing a white supremacist regime, the liberation struggle and freedom for blacks from their tormentors. While Mandela plays a dominant role in the book, it is not entirely about him. South Africa’s colonial history and hoary past are covered in fairly good measure, which rightly provides the context and perspective to understand the history and modern times of the nation. The premise, of course, is that to appreciate the present a correct understanding of the past is a must.
The book is structured into four parts or themes: In search of a promised land; The Prime Minister’s bulldozers; Helen and Chris: two lights in the darkness; and “God bless Africa”. The book will resonate well with Indians. The reasons are not far to seek. India’s interest in South Africa dates back to the time of the indentured labour that migrated to its shores. The surge in the freedom movement and its influence on Mahatma Gandhi, then a young and impressionable Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was an added impetus to the growing Indian interest in that nation.
The book does not delve in great detail to Gandhi’s travails in racist South Africa. Considering that it also has Indian readers in mind (the book’s publisher, Full Circle, is Indian), the book ought to have dealt with the effects of racism and South Africa’s initial pacifist struggle on young Gandhi’s mind, especially as it had made such an impression on him in later years as he led India’s freedom movement. The book does, however, cover race classification, the process of Indian, Malay and other races – including blacks – being grouped according to the colour of their skin.
The book is a fairly accurate – if not an academic or detailed – account of nearly 350 years of South Africa’s history. For students of politics and international relations, it provides a correct perspective on the tumultuous history, the birth of a new nation, segregation and apartheid. The book is eminently readable, racy and fast-paced.