Reflections that are somewhat clouded

2010-01-20 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Running With Horses: ­Reflections Of An Accidental Politician

Allan Boesak

Joho

THIS was a difficult book to read. Vanity is often an ingredient of autobiographies and Boesak’s shines through. However, for serious ­followers of South Africa’s political scene it is worth reading for the ­insight it gives into the formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF), as well as South Africa’s transitional period to democracy when the UDF (inziles) were sidelined by returning exiles.

Boesak was no doubt a towering figure in South African liberation ­politics, and there is no taking away from the enormous contribution he made. Unfortunately, power corrupts and Boesak was convicted for fraud in 1999. He was found guilty of ­embezzling funds given by donors for development projects for the poor. He was later granted a presidential ­pardon by former president Thabo Mbeki.

Prior to publication there was a lot of hype that this was going to be a tell-all book and the author was ­going to come clean on his fraud ­conviction. Unfortunately, this does not happen. There was an attempt by Boesak to implicate others such as Trevor ­Manuel, and claim that the money he received from donors had gone to ­political causes. However, court action led to the book being withdrawn and certain sections rewritten.

Another unfortunate aspect is that it is not a straightforward autobio­graphy but rather, as the title suggests, Boesak’s reflections on past events. This is unfortunate because Boesak remains a fascinating character. He hailed from the coloured ­community in the Northern Cape and became a Dutch Reformed Church minister. He did his doctorate at the time when liberation theology came to the fore and his book Farewell to Innocence, based on his doctoral ­dissertation and published in 1976, was both well written and thought provoking.

He was a founding member of the UDF and definitely shook up both politics and the church in South ­Africa. His personal life, with its share of ­infidelity, became South ­Africa’s own soap opera, and then there was the fraud charge.

He continues to be a controversial figure. There was his brief flirtation with breakaway party Congress of the People (Cope) and his just as sudden resignation from the party. No doubt some biographer will come along and capture the fascinating and disparate elements in this ­controversial yet ­influential political figure’s life.

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