This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and Dialogue, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
Shades of Difference explores Mac Maharaj's role in the Struggle
When Shades of Difference: Mac Maharaj and the Struggle for South Africa was published in 2007, it received rave reviews in South Africa and the United States. Of course, that might be expected for a book for which Nelson Mandela penned a substantial foreword. Mandela had some issues to settle, especially with regard to Operation Vula, and dispelled many of the half-truths that poisoned the political climate in the decade after he relinquished the presidency in 1999. "I respect Mac, and I love him," Mandela wrote. "I call him Ngquphephe, after a one-eyed hero in a Xhosa folktale. O'Malley does Ngquphephe proud. And I am proud of O'Malley too for the extraordinary book he has written for us. He, like us in the struggle, has persevered, and he like us, has triumphed."
South African Nobel Prize winner for literature, Nadine Gordimer, was no less effusive: "An original and important work," she enthused, "an entry for the reader into a wider understanding of the elements of the Struggle, the contradictions that had to be overcome to bring us to freedom." Reviews in South Africa scattered words such as "seminal," "required reading" and "extraordinarily well researched" through their texts.
In the United States, the book's publication elicited similar praise. Publishers Weekly, the most influential industry review publication in the country, called it "A groundbreaking biography of a central figure in the fight to end South African apartheid", and Library Journal, the review publication from which public libraries take their cue, wrote, in a starred review, that Shades of Difference was "brilliantly written".
In the introduction, O'Malley writes: "Mac's life is an expression of the struggle against apartheid and institutionalised oppression, of the triumph of endurance in the face of almost insurmountable odds, of absolute conviction in a cause that became his raison d'être and consumed him to the exclusion of all other considerations and led him repeatedly to put his life at risk. He lived in a special world, one he had to create in order to survive, a world of half-truths, outright lies, deception, and the compelling need to trust judiciously, for even trust might be the instrument of betrayal. Few could measure up to his demanding standards, and few had the stamina and intellect necessary to keep him from a ruthless, relentless obsession to turn his vision of South Africa into reality. His iron discipline and will contrasted with his surrender of self to the movement."
Central to the book's historical significance are the Vula communications. In a pre-email age, these were communications in next-to-real-time among Mac, in South Africa, and Oliver Tambo and Joe Slovo in Lusaka. Ultimately, Mandela, in Victor Verster prison, was brought into the communications loop. This was at a crucial time, when the South African government may have believed that it had successfully isolated Mandela – with whom it was talking – from other talks outside South Africa, involving Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma.
Shades of Difference is also a research resource. Its 70 pages of voluminous endnotes are tied to expanded notes on The Heart of Hope website, which also contains the Vula communications and all of O'Malley's research under the heading "Maharaj".
The reader can access critical analyses of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the evolution of South Africa's fiscal and monetary policies, governance at the municipal level, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission through the eyes of its commissioners and investigators; indeed, of every public policy issue of consequence from South Africa's apartheid era through its transition to democracy and economic and social transformation.
Shades of Difference can be purchased through www.amazon.com; or any bookstore.