As anyone who lived through that decade knows, the 1980s in South Africa were marked by protest, violent confrontation, and international sanctions. Internally, the country saw a bewildering growth of grassroots organizations--including trade unions, civic associations in the black townships, student and other youth organizations, church-based groups, and women's movements--many of which operated under the umbrella of the United Democratic Front (UDF). "Beyond Our Wildest Dreams" explores the often conflicted relationship between the UDF's large-scale resistance to apartheid and its everyday struggles at the local level.
In hindsight, the UDF can be seen as a transitional front, preparing the ground for leaders of the liberation movement to return from exile or prison and take over power. But the founding fathers of the UDF initially had far more modest ambitions. As Azhar Cachalia, one of its core activists, later explained: "Look, when we founded the UDF, we had never in our wildest dreams expected that events would take off in the way they did. What happened was beyond everybody's expectations."
Interviews with Cachalia and other leading personalities in the UDF examine the organization's workings at the national level, while stories of ordinary people, collected by the author, illuminate the grassroots activism so important to the UDF's success. Even in South Africa, writes Ineke van Kessel, who covered the anti-apartheid movement as a journalist, resistance was not the obvious option for ordinary citizens. Van Kessel shows how these people were mobilized into forming a radical social movement that developed a highly flexible and innovative form of resistance that ultimately ended apartheid.
Based on thorough, meticulous, and discerning scholarship, van Kessel's book shows a mature understanding of South Africa's political dynamics. Outstandingly perceptive while broadly sympathetic, van Kessel achieves an admirable objectivity regarding the foibles and weaknesses of the actors in her story. She succeeds in conveying the real texture of politics on the ground.