Book review: Total Onslaught

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De Wet Potgieter’s Total Onslaught – Apartheid’s dirty tricks exposed is a disappointment.

Despite the title, the book is not a comprehensive treatment of the subject but rather illustrates isolated aspects of state crime and the abuse of power. The episodes seem to have in common little more than the author`s involvement as a newspaper reporter. As such the book is less a look at government excess in the face of burgeoning democracy than an opportunity for the author to dust off old reporters` notebooks.

This is a pity. Many of the episodes Potgieter highlights were indeed in need of revisiting – and he does a competent job at it – but there is no over-arching theme or explanation how South Africa`s white Christian conservative leadership fell into the company of frauds, pimps and murderers. While Potgieter is welcome to relive exciting episodes in his career, these should have been departure points, not destinations in his research to understand the topic.

One can also fault the gratuitous use of foul language, which to the reviewer may work in conversation or fiction, but here undermines the text, as does the use of first names and the familiar honorific “Oom” (Uncle).  

The book does, however, make an interesting and worthwhile contrast to Christie van der Westhuizen`s White Power – The rise and fall of the National Party, not just in terms of style but in substance. Two episodes stand out: the fall of PW Botha and the role of Kobie Coetzee in the transition from NP to African National Congress rule.

Potgieter`s speculation on the murder of Swedish Prime Minister Sven Olof Palme is also required reading.         

De Wet Potgieter

Total Onslaught – Apartheid`s dirty tricks exposed

Zebra Press

Cape Town



2007