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Andrew Kenny
2 minute read
9 May 2017
6:44 am

Book review: Between Two Fires

Andrew Kenny

The clearest eye in South African politics over the past 40 years belongs to John Kane-Berman.

His autobiography Between Two Fires, recently published, is essential for understanding our troubled past and troubled present. The two fires are the authoritarian ideologies of apartheid and communism.

JKB was one of the few during our transition to denounce both apartheid and the atrocities of the ANC/communist “people’s war”, directed mainly against innocent black people in the townships.

Cringing liberal defectors turned their eyes away as poor black men were roasted to death with burning tyres around their necks. JKB looked hard and told what he saw.

As a student activist at Wits University in the 1960s, he was responsible for bringing Robert Kennedy to SA. He was one of three students to have a grim meeting with then prime minister John Vorster when they tried to tell him of the madness of apartheid.

As the labour editor of the Financial Mail, he pointed out the idiocies of the pass laws and showed the tragic failure of the Bantustans with a horrifying cover of a starving black baby. From 1983 to 2014, he was CEO of the SA Institute of Race Relations, the most accurate, brave, unbiased, truth-telling political institute in our land.

Its South African Surveys are the single best volumes of information on all aspects of SA. All political parties recognise this. JKB never bowed to romantic trends.

When, in the 1980s, we were told that only violent revolution could overthrow apartheid, he said nonsense! His superb SA’s Silent Revolution showed that apartheid was already being overthrown by ordinary black people.

The recognition of black trade unions in 1979 and the repeal of the pass laws in 1986 was proof of this.

Now, when some people say nothing has improved for black people since 1994, he shows with detailed statistics that millions of black people have been lifted out of the lowest levels of poverty.

Of course he laments the abysmal failures of ANC rule and offers clear and sensible remedies.

My only criticism of his book is its subtitle: Holding the Liberal Centre in South African Politics. Liberals are never in the centre – they are always on the extreme for freedom, tolerance and the rule of law.

JKB is a champion for liberty.

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