The South African government gave no quarter to young people who joined the struggle against the apartheid state; indeed, it targeted them. Security forces meted out cruel treatment to youth who rebelled, incarcerated even the very young under dreadful conditions, and used torture frequently, sometimes over long periods of time. Little is known, however, from the perspective of young fighters themselves about the efforts they made to sustain the momentum of struggle, how that affected and was affected by their other social bonds, and what they achieved in terms of growth and paid in terms of harm. War in Worcester combines a study of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)'s findings on the stand taken by South African youth with extended fieldwork undertaken with fourteen young men who, starting in their schooldays, were involved in the struggle in a small town in the Western Cape. Filling a gap in the ethnographic analysis of the role of youth in armed conflict, the book describes, from the perspective of the young fighters themselves, the tactics that young local leaders used and how the state retaliated, young peoples' experiences of pain and loss, the effect on fighters of the extensive use of informers by the state as a weapon of war, and the search for an ethic of survival.
The testimony of these young fighters reveals some limitations of the processes used by the TRC in its search to document the truth. War in Worcester problematizes the use of the term “victim” for the political engagement of young people and calls for attention to patterns of documenting the past and thus to the nature of the archive in recording the character of political forces and the uses of violence. It encourages a fresh analysis of the kinds of revolt being enacted by the young elsewhere in the world, such as North Africa and the Middle East.
Pamela Reynolds —
Pamela Reynolds is Professor Emerita, Johns Hopkins University, and Honorary Professor, University of Cape Town. Her books include Growing Up in a Divided Society: The Contexts of Childhood in South Africa, Childhood in Crossroads: Cognition and Society in South Africa, Dance Civet Cat: Child Labour in the Zambezi Valley, and Traditional Healers and Childhood in Zimbabwe.
Reynolds, Pamela. War in Worcester: youth and the apartheid state, by Pamela Reynolds with Nana Charity Khohlokoane et al. Fordham, 2013. 239p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780823243099; ISBN 9780823243105 pbk. Reviewed in 2013jun CHOICE.
As the author suggests, this is an "astringent" attempt to understand what it meant for young male Africans to oppose apartheid in the 1980s and early 1990s. This is micro history at its best--"thick" narrative based on a comprehensive mining of the militancy of youths in one township in one unexpected, even peripheral, portion of contested South Africa. Reynolds (emer., Johns Hopkins) relies on evidence gathered over more than a decade from 14 then-young strugglers against apartheid. From their testimonies, the author constructed a coruscating group portrait of how this not-necessarily-representative sample of young men suffered under apartheid, reacted to its oppression, were in turn targeted by the apartheid regime, and were attacked and tortured by its security forces. The 14 recount their internal battles as well: the ways in which betrayal haunted them, their underlying ethical codes, and, the ways in which they and their colleagues coped with the volatilities and vicissitudes of protest, day in and day out. Reynolds also seeks to condemn the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for overlooking and omitting the role the youth of South Africa played in the antiapartheid struggle.
Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. -- R. I. Rotberg, Harvard University