Let’s Read World War Z pt. 10: Featuring Special Guest Appearance by Nelson Mandela

Here it is, our final World War Z post!

For reasons outlined previously (the rest of the book doesn’t have a whole lot to discuss, basically), we’re going to end our look at Max Brooks zombie opus here. Don’t worry though, because we’re going out on easily the strangest and most ridiculous chapter of the book, as well as frankly one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen in a published novel. If you think I’m hyping it up too much, just wait.

As usual, October will be the season of spooky blog content in order to celebrate the beginning of the interesting half of the year, but this year I’m going to try to prepare a lot of it in advance. That means I’ll be working on it throughout September, so there probably won’t be anything going up that month. Spooky content will begin on the first of October.

Before we advance, there’s a line of dialogue I want to go back to from the previous chapter:

what did we call the first round of Gulf War Two, “Shock and Awe”?

This reminded me that there was a brief period where Americans were trying to call the war in Iraq “Gulf War Two” and how glad I am that it never took off.

Anyway, we enter the next phase of the book, TURNING THE TIDE, with a visit to the “United States of Southern Africa”. We’re not told what exactly this means--a bunch of south African countries united into a new country that confusingly has a similar name to its most well-known costituent, South Africa and Lesotho becoming a single entity, or something else entirely--but I guess in the alt-history near future every single country has to be a different political entity to what it is now.

Our interview subject is Xolelwa Azania, apparently a scholar of some kind writing a book about South Africa’s experience during the zombie war, which has the amazing title of “Rainbow Fist”. According to Fictional Max Brooks, humans first started to mount a credible defence against the zombies in South Africa, and we’re going to learn how. Strap yourselves in, it’s really stupid!

Dispassionate, a rather mundane word to describe one of history’s most controversial figures. Some revere him as a savior, some revile him as a monster, but if you ever met Paul Redeker, ever discussed his views of the world and the problems, or more importantly, the solutions to the problems that plague the world, probably the one word that would always cling to your impression of the man is dispassionate.

Paul Redeker was, according to Azania, a robotic logic-machine who was utterly lacking in humanity and who saw things purely in terms of cold utility. Somehow, this led to him working for the Apartheid government even though he wasn’t a racist. 

No, really.

Others have argued that, in order for a racist to hate one group, he must at least love another.

This is getting uncomfortably close to the kinds of things racists say.

In the 80s, Redeker helped the Apartheid government develop Plan Orange, which was a scenario to deal with a full-blown uprising by South Africa’s non-white majority. Since he was such a calculating STEMlord, Redeker came up with an utterly ruthless idea:

Redeker not only updated the plan to include both Cuba’s chemical weapons and his own country’s nuclear option, but also, and this is what made “Orange Eighty-Four” so historic, the determination of which Afrikaners would be saved and which had to be sacrificed.

Basically, his idea was a eugenics-flavoured triage operation where Afrikaners with “desirable” traits would be rescued or protected somehow while the rest would be left to die, or whatever (the book is pretty vague about the specifics). After the fall of Apartheid the existence of Plan Orange became known and Redeker became a pariah, retreating from public life to live in a cabin. When the Great Panic began, the South African government sent some special forces guys to grab him on the assumption that he could come up with an idea to save the country.

As it turns out, Redeker had already formulated just such a plan, modifying Plan Orange to deal with hordes of rampaging zombies instead of hordes of rampaging, uh, black people (might want to word it differently when you pitch it to the post-Apartheid government, Paul).

They were of all colors: black, Asian, colored, and even a white man, a tall Afrikaner who stepped forward, and without giving his name or rank, asked abruptly . . . “You’ve got a plan for this, man. Don’t you?”

Max Brooks knows four things about South Africa, one of which is that white South African people say “man” a lot.

The “Redeker Plan” involved drawing the remaining military forces back to easily-defended safe zones, preferably guarded by natural obstacles like mountain ranges, and evacuating a portion of the population to these areas once they’ve been cleared of zombies. The remaining uninfected population should be consolidated together and given enough supplies to keep themselves alive...so they can act as bait and draw the zombies away from the safe zone borders.

Everyone gasps in horror at this and Azania declares that only Paul Redeker could have come up with it. Maybe I’m being overly cynical, but I think a lot of world governments would have no trouble acting this coldly towards their own populations in an emergency.

Things get a little uncomfortable here, because the book will go on to state that the Redeker Plan, copied throughout the world, pretty unequivocally gave humanity the foothold it needed to turn the tide and win the zombie war. You’d think this would raise a lot of tricky ethical questions like whether the cost was worth it or if people after the war felt bitter towards their governments. But here comes a special celebrity guest to sweep all those concerns away!

He was ushered into a meeting of the president’s surviving cabinet, where his report was read aloud to the room. You should have heard the uproar, with no voice louder than the defense minister’s. He was a Zulu, a ferocious man who’d rather be fighting in the streets than cowering in a bunker.

You’re really going to put “Zulu” and “ferocious” in the same sentence, huh?

Everyone gets into an uproar over Redeker’s plan and the president yells that he never actually gave the order to bring Redeker in. One of his ministers asks who did, and a Mysterious Voice dramatically speaks from the back of the room.

The president threw his hands in the air and shouted that he never gave such an order, and then, from somewhere in the room, a faint voice said, “I did.”

The speaker?

Albert Einstein.

Okay not really, although this whole thing has intense “and then everyone applauded” energy.

No, the person who arranged for an Apartheid-era war criminal to be brought to the government bunker so he could save humanity was...well, try to figure it out:

The elder statesman, the father of our new democracy, the man whose birth name had been Rolihlahla, which some have translated simply into “Troublemaker.”

Yes, it’s Nelson Mandela. It’s so obviously Nelson Mandela that I don’t know why the book is being coy about it. And from a textual perspective, why would Azania tell the story like this? Nelson Mandela is one of the most famous people in modern history, he could just say “oh and Nelson Mandela was there, by the way” and absolutely anyone reading this would be like “yes, Nelson Mandela, the extremely well known person I was already aware of, carry on”.

Anyway so Mandela walks up to Redeker and basically re-enacts that meme image of a white arm and a black arm clasping hands, announcing that Redeker is totally cool and going to save South Africa. It’s exactly as cheesy and corny as it sounds.

But then it gets worse. Mandela hugs Paul Redeker, and this has a profound effect on our man Redeker because, you see, what if his actual problem was he felt too many emotions, or fucking whatever.

That is the generally accepted notion. Paul Redeker: no feelings, no compassion, no heart. However, one of our most revered authors, Biko’s old friend and biographer, postulates that Redeker was actually a deeply sensitive man, too sensitive, in fact, for life in apartheid South Africa.

Biko, in case you didn’t know, refers to Steve Biko, a famous anti-Apartheid activist who was murdered by the police. He also has the honour of being, as far as I can tell, the sole real-life figure explicitly named in this book. I think “one of our most revered authors” is referring to Donald Woods, a journalist who wrote Biko’s biography.

Anyway so Nelson Mandela hugged Paul Redeker and because Paul Redeker was such a sensitive uwu snowflake, this caused him to instantly go totally and incurably insane

No, really.

This is all deeply terrible and impossible to take seriously, but wait, it gets even worse. You see, after Redeker got hit by the Mandela Effect, Xolelwa Azania stepped up to make sure the Redeker Plan was implemented. He got this job because he had deep insight into Redeker’s mind. How did he gain such insight? Well,

[After a parting embrace from my guest, I am driven back to my ferry for the mainland. Security is tight as I sign out my entrance badge. The tall Afrikaner guard photographs me again. “Can’t be too careful, man,” he says, handing me the pen. “Lot of people out there want to send him to hell.” I sign next to my name, under the heading of Robben Island Psychiatric Institution. NAME OF PATIENT YOU ARE VISITING: PAUL REDEKER.]


Where do I even start with this?

First off, I’m pretty sure there’s no type of mental illness that makes you turn into a completely different person but otherwise leaves you totally lucid and able to function normally. If there was such a condition, I’m pretty sure you couldn’t get it by being hugged by Nelson Mandela.

Second, the book feels like it’s coming uncomfortably close to lionizing Redeker and his Plan, or at least trying to severely muddy the water by getting the audience to sympathise with him. And this isn’t the only time the book seems to fawn over authoritarianism; later we learn about the harsh measures put in place to keep law and order in the American safe zones--which include public humiliation and whipping for petty offences like stealing food--and there’s no real discussion of the morality of this or recognition that it might have caused resentment in the people living under it (the civilian population of the safe zones in general aren’t depicted very sympathetically).

There’s a deeply unpleasant strand of post-apocalyptic fiction that revels in the idea of some cataclysm dividing the strong from the weak and creating a utilitarian world where people have to be strong and hard and sacrifice the few for the greater good (I call this the Joseph Stalin school of storytelling). Very often, this ends up being a disguised paean to fascism, sometimes disguised so well that not even the author realizes that’s what they’re doing. World War Z is far from the worst example of this, but it definitely sails into that territory at times.

And my third point of discussion is oh my God Max Brooks how did you present this nonsense to your publisher with a straight face and how the hell did they agree to publish it, you seriously wrote a chapter where an Apartheid government ally saves the world and then Nelson Mandela hugs him and he mentally turns into a black guy.

Maybe we should just let the zombies eat us all.