This book gives an account of the turbulent and remarkable political history of South Africa in the twentieth century, starting with the South African (Boer) War and finishing as Nelson Mandela comes to power. A great drama unfolds - of struggle, triumph and disaster; of hopes fulfilled and dashed - as the advocates of competing forms of nationalism seek to gain control of the state. The drama is shaped by political, economic and social beliefs and interests, by powerful individuals, and by outside forces which intruded into South Africa.
For most of the century whites dominated the scene, creating a society in which they enjoyed economic privilege and exclusive control of the state. Yet they disputed among themselves who were the "true" South Africans, and therefore who should form the government. As the century advanced, and particularly after the Second World War, the assumption of white dominance was challenged, by advocates both of a non-racial nationalism and of African nationalism, until a "new" South Africa was born in 1994. This is a story therefore of struggle to realize a dominant nationalism through control of the state, the ways in which political leaders promoted their beliefs and interests; and their responses to the constraints and circumstances they encountered.