The Plot to Save South Africa: The Week Mandela Averted Civil War and Forged a New Nation (Paperback)
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A “gripping and important” (The Guardian) account of nine tumultuous days, as the assassination of Nelson Mandela’s protégé by a white supremacist threatens to derail South Africa’s democratic transition and plunge the nation into civil war.
Johannesburg, Easter weekend, 1993. Nelson Mandela had been released after twenty-seven years in prison and was in power sharing talks with President F.W. de Klerk. After decades of resistance, the apartheid regime seemed poised to fall…until a white supremacist shot and killed Mandela’s popular heir apparent, Chris Hani, in a last desperate attempt to provoke civil war.
Twenty-two-year-old rookie journalist Justice Malala was one of the first people at the crime scene. And as he covered the growing chaos of the next nine days—the protests and police brutality, reprisal killings and calls for paramilitary units to get combat-ready—he was terrified the assassin’s plot might succeed.
In The Plot to Save South Africa, Malala “masterfully” (Foreign Affairs) unspools this political history in the style of a thriller, alternating between the perspectives of participants across the political spectrum in a riveting, kaleidoscopic account of a country on the brink. Through vivid archival research and shocking original interviews, he digs into questions that were never fully answered in all the tumult at the time: How involved were far-right elements within the South African government in inciting—or even planning—the assassination? And as the time bomb ticked on, how did these political rivals work together with opponents whose ideology they’d long abhorred—despite provocation and their own failures, doubts, and fears—to keep their country from descending into civil war?
About the Author
Justice Malala is one of South Africa’s foremost political commentators and the author of the #1 bestseller We Have Now Begun Our Descent: How to Stop South Africa Losing its Way. A longtime weekly columnist for The Times (South Africa), he has also written for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and Financial Times, among other outlets. The former publisher of The Sowetan and Sunday World, he now lives in New York.
“Fast-paced, gripping, and expertly crafted, this book reads like a political thriller. A brilliant, moving, and extraordinary account of nine days that shaped a country and a continent, with the entire world looking on.”
—Toluse Olorunnipa, Pulitzer Prize-winning coauthor of His Name Is George Floyd
“This is a dramatic work of history, prodigiously reported and beautifully crafted. Justice Malala is a first-rate storyteller, deftly weaving history with a narrative that reads like a novel. I couldn’t put it down.”
—Jonathan Eig, New York Times bestselling author of King: A Life
“Malala is one of a group of outstanding South African journalists who came of age around the birth of democracy…. The Plot to Save South Africa wonderfully captures the spirit of that time.”
“Magnificent, furious, nuanced, and un-put-downable. Malala steers us through the hatred, the grief, and the courage that shaped one nation-shaking week. The result is a searing thriller, a deeply moving work of investigative journalism, and a mesmerising reminder of what leadership can achieve—and what South Africa almost squandered.”
—Andrew Harding, prize-winning author of The Mayor of Mogadishu
“A riveting chronicle about the triumph of leadership over despair.”
“While one must certainly admire the research that went into this book, it is also necessary to laud Malala’s craftsmanship. The writing is gripping.... He is adept at using the novelist’s sense of place and atmosphere. He knows how to create tension-filled scenes. His unfailing eye for detail helps him capture the essence of the characters who parade across the stage he sets up.”
—City Press (South Africa)
“Trenchant…. Malala masterfully weaves the different threads of the story.”
“Heart-wrenching at times, Malala's immaculately researched account underscores the power of Mandela’s great leadership in unimaginably difficult times…. Relevant, compelling, and instructive.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“A suspenseful nonfiction thriller featuring valuable firsthand observation.”
“Doggedly researched and immersively told, this is a fascinating study of a nation on the brink.”