This book is microhistory at its best. Dlamini, born into South Africa’s apartheid, discovered that a crude photo album containing more than 7,000 mug shots of “terrorists” and “enemies of the state” had been used to identify and keep tabs on opponents during the glory days of the regime. Supposedly, critical “intelligence” was derived from a mere photographic compendium.

After apartheid’s demise and future President Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, the security forces attempted to burn (in industrial furnaces) all traces—44 tons of paper and microfiche—of their operations and much of what passed for security files. They attempted, with good reason, to obliterate their past (just as many British colonial administrations tried to do elsewhere in Africa).

A South African police official called the album the “greatest form of terrorism” (xii). Three of its 500 copies unaccountably survived, with Dlamini hotly in pursuit. South Africa’s researchers in the Truth and...

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