Non-fiction award for Shain

29 June 2016 | Story Helen Swingler. Photo Michael Hammond.
Emer Prof Milton Shain's award-winning A Perfect Storm: Antisemitism in South Africa 1930–1948 is published by Jonathan Ball.
Emer Prof Milton Shain's award-winning A Perfect Storm: Antisemitism in South Africa 1930–1948 is published by Jonathan Ball.

Emeritus Professor Milton Shain's award-winning book A Perfect Storm: Antisemitism in South Africa 1930–1948 has been described by the Recht Malan Prize for Non-fiction judges as “history at its most compulsively readable”.

“In a time when violent xenophobia regularly rears its ugly head across the country, the continent and the globe, this marvellous book is a timely reminder of what can happen when politicians in pursuit of power demonise a vulnerable group,” they said.

The latest work is part of a trilogy that Shain (Department of Historical Studies) is writing on the history of antisemitism in the country.

The first book, The Roots of Antisemitism in South Africa (University of Virginia Press and Wits University Press) was published in 1994 and won the UCT Book Prize in 1996. It dealt with the period from the late nineteenth century until the Quota Act of 1930, which precluded the influx of Eastern European Jews into the country.

“A Perfect Storm reveals the contingencies of hatred and how circumstances (including the 'poor white' problem) allow minorities to be targeted,” said Shain. “Besides the impact of European fascism on the radical right, the 1930s also revealed the danger of exclusivist nationalism, in that case the danger of völkisch Afrikaner nationalism.”

He added: “All this built upon the long maturation of an anti-Jewish stereotype in South Africa. Significantly, the rhetoric of the radical right – led by the Greyshirts* – penetrated mainstream political discourse; and antisemitism moved from the margins to the centre.”

“The antisemitism in the 1930s and early 1940s was a form of xenophobia that we find worldwide today, although in the Jewish case it plugs into a long history of fantasy,” said Shain. “To be sure, as I wrote in the book, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – a notorious fabrication – penetrated South African discourse and was the subject of a major trial in Grahamstown in 1934.”

The period from 1930 to 1948 is regarded as the high point of South African antisemitism, says Shain. He is now working on the period from 1948 to the present.

A Perfect Storm is his twelfth book (some edited and some co-edited), including one co-authored with former colleague Richard Mendelsohn.

* The Greyshirts is a short-form name given to the South African Gentile National Socialist Movement, a South African Nazi movement in the 1930s and 1940s.)

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