31 books every South African should read

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31 books every South African should read Looking for deeper insight into South Africa? Here are snap reviews of classic South African reads, covering a wide range of books from non-fiction, to fiction and poetry, featuring a range of the country's greatest novelists, poets, journalists and historians.Non-fictionFictionPoetryNon-fictionThe World That Made MandelaBy Luli Callinicos Bringing history and geography together, this is a large coffee-table-sized book filled with archival and contemporary images, telling the story of Nelson Mandela and his struggle for South Africa's freedom through the many places associated with his life. From his birthplace in Qunu to the Old Fort in Johannesburg, where he was held prisoner (and which is now the site of the Constitutional Court), from Soweto to Mpumalanga, the images provide a wonderful historical context for South Africa today, combining to form a unique "heritage trail".Long Walk to FreedomBy Nelson Mandela
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Transcript of 31 books every South African should read

  • 31 books every South African should read

    Looking for deeper insight into South Africa? Here are snap reviews of classic South African reads,covering a wide range of books from non-fiction, to fiction and poetry, featuring a range of thecountry's greatest novelists, poets, journalists and historians.Non-fictionFictionPoetryNon-fictionTheWorld That Made MandelaBy Luli Callinicos

    Bringing history and geography together,this is a large coffee-table-sized book filled with archival and contemporary images, telling the storyof Nelson Mandela and his struggle for South Africa's freedom through the many places associatedwith his life. From his birthplace in Qunu to the Old Fort in Johannesburg, where he was heldprisoner (and which is now the site of the Constitutional Court), from Soweto to Mpumalanga, theimages provide a wonderful historical context for South Africa today, combining to form a unique"heritage trail".Long Walk to FreedomBy Nelson Mandela

  • The towering figure of South Africa'sliberation struggle began his autobiography in prison, his pages in tiny writing smuggled out bycomrades. When he came out of jail in 1990, and went on to become South Africa's first blackpresident in 1994, he continued the work, and it is essential reading for anyone who wants tounderstand Mandela, the times he lived through and the war he waged for freedom. He alsoauthorised a biography by Anthony Sampson (see box right), which provides much useful extrainformation and differing perspectives.Watch the movie trailer here:[embedded content]Tomorrow Is

  • Another CountryBy Allister Sparks Sparks,a veteran South African journalist and author, also wrote The Mind of South Africa. His account ofthe transition from apartheid to democracy is one of several, but undoubtedly the best. It describes,from behind the scenes, the process that began with tentative contact between the sworn enemies,moving through the unbanning of the liberation movements and the complex negotiations that led toSouth Africa's first fully democratic election in 1994.A History of South AfricaBy Frank Welsh

  • This comprehensive one-volume history ofSouth Africa goes beyond the achievement of democracy to look at the problems facing the newsociety in the period since Nelson Mandela ended his term as South Africa's first black president.The book also goes back into South Africa history, and explains the country's ethnic mix though ithas also been criticised for pro-Afrikaner attitudes. Judge for yourself.The Anglo-Boer War 1899-

  • 1902By Fransjohan Pretorius By the end ofthe 19th century, South Africa was partly a British colony and partly a pair of independent Afrikanerrepublics. British imperialism and capitalist expansionism meant that the independence of therepublic (particularly the gold-rich Transvaal) would come under threat. In 1899, the second Anglo-Boer War, which made the earlier conflict seem negligible, broke out. In some ways, it was the firstmodern war, one that saw the invention of trench warfare, concentration camps and guerrillafighting, as the highly organised British army squared up against the motley band of farmer-hunte--soldiers that made up the loose-knit Boer army. It was also a conflict that defined the politicalfuture of a united South Africa. Pretorius gives the best outline of the war, focusing on aspects (suchas the participation of large numbers of black people) that were hitherto ignored.Country of My

  • SkullBy Antjie Krog This is a personal andcompelling account of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated the horrors ofapartheid repression, written by the acclaimed Afrikaans poet. Here she writes in English, from theperspective of a radical Afrikaner, of the searing process of confessing apartheid's sins. A bestsellerin South Africa and successful abroad, the book has been reissued with additional material. My

  • Traitor's HeartBy Rian Malan Subtitled"Blood and Bad Dreams: A South African Explores the Madness in His Country, His Tribe andHimself", this book was a bestseller in South Africa and elsewhere when it came out in 1990. By amember of one of Afrikanerdom's leading apartheid families, it goes into the heart of darkness of acountry in turmoil. It's not a pretty picture, but it makes for compelling, sobering reading.Portraits

  • of PowerBy Mark Gevisser A collection ofGevisser's acclaimed columns for the Mail & Guardian, in which he wrote detailed, elegant andpsychologically acute profiles of all the key players in the new South Africa, from controversialacademic Malegapuru Makgoba to musician-director Mbongeni Ngema, from Chief Rabbi CyrilHarris to filmmaker Anant Singh, from politicians such as Sam (Mbhazima) Shilowa and GeraldineFraser-Moleketi to soccer star Mark Fish.New Babylon / New NinevehBy Charles van Onselen

  • Subtitled "Everyday Life on theWitwatersrand 1886-1914", this essential pair of historical studies are now republished in onevolume. They examine the era of Johannesburg's establishment and early growth through social,political and economic lenses to provide a picture of how this great city developed, and what thatstory has to tell us about South Africa today.Cape Town: The Making of a CityBy Nigel Worden,Elizabeth van Heyningen and Vivian Bickford-Smith

  • Cape Town was South Africa's first city -some still regard it so. It's had extraordinary ethnic diversity from the start. Now one of the world'sfavourite tourist destinations, the city has a complex history, which is told in this beautiful andengrossing book. It looks at Cape Town in colonial times, under Dutch and then British rule, fromthe earliest small settlement founded to grow vegetables for passing ships to the brink of the 20thcentury. A plethora of paintings, maps, drawings and photographs illustrate the book and make itvery accessible. (A companion volume, by the same authors, looking at the city today in the sameformat, is Cape Town in the Twentieth Century: An Illustrated Social History.) MidlandsBy Jonny

  • Steinberg In the spring of 1999, in theKwaZulu-Natal midlands, a young white farmer is shot dead on the dirt road running from hisfathers farmhouse to his irrigation fields. The murder is the work of assassins rather than robbers; asingle shot behind the ear, nothing but his gun stolen, no forensic evidence is left at the scene.Journalist Jonny Steinberg travels to the midlands to investigate. Steinberg finds that much of thestory lies in the immediate future. He has stumbled upon a festering frontier battle. Right from thebeginning, it is clear that the young white man is not the only one who will die on that frontier, andthat the story of his and other deaths will illuminate a great deal about the early days of post-apartheid South Africa.Three-Letter PlagueBy Jonny Steinberg

  • Jonny Steinbergs groundbreaking work ofreportage about pride and shame, sex and death, and the Aids pandemic in Africa is a masterpiece ofsocial observation. In the poor village of Ithanga, in the old Transkei, Steinberg explores the lives ofa community caught up in a battle to survive the ravages of HIV/Aids. He befriends Sizwe Magadla,a young local man who refuses to be tested for HIV despite the existence of a well-run testing andanti-retroviral programme. It is this apparent illogic that becomes the key to understanding thedynamics that thread their way through a complex and traditional rural community.The TrueConfessions of an Albino TerroristBy Breyten Breytenbach

  • Breyten Breytenbach was that mostreviled of men, an Afrikaner who betrayed his people to fight apartheid. For this, he was arrested in1975, tried and sentenced to prison for high treason. This, his memoir of his seven years in jail twoof them in solitary confinement captures the full horror of life in one of the worst penal systems inthe world. It was originally published in 1983. In an afterword to the text, he states that the work"took shape from the obsessive urge I experienced during the first weeks and months of my releaseto talk, talk, talk, to tell my story and all the other stories".FictionDisgraceBy JM Coetzee

  • The crowning achievement of adistinguished literary career, Disgrace won Coetzee the Booker Prize for the second time, makinghim the first writer to achieve that distinction and occasioned much debate within South Africa. It isa bleak but always compelling story of the new South Africa struggling to come to terms with itself,addressing issues of guilt, responsibility, meaning and survival, written in prose of crystallinesharpness. A surprise bestseller in South Africa as well as abroad. Cry, The Beloved CountryBy Alan

  • Paton Perhaps the most famous novel tocome out of South Africa, Paton's 1948 work brought to the notice of the world the dilemmas ofordinary South Africans living under an oppressive system, one which threatened to destroy theirvery humanity. Informed by Paton's Christian and liberal beliefs, the novel tells of a rural Zuluparson's heart-breaking search for his son, who has been drawn into the criminal underworld of thecity. Cry, The Beloved Country has sold millions of copies around the world.See the movie trailerhere:[embedded content]Selected StoriesBy Nadine Gordimer

  • Winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize forLiterature, Gordimer was for decades South Africa's literary conscience. Her stories are perhaps thebest introduction to her work: they span the 1950s to the 1990s in this volume (British edition),moving from the city to the countryside and from the highest ranks of society to the lowest. Withdelicacy and power, they cast a bright light on the extraordinary lives led by South Africans of allraces, and the nature of their interactions across colour lines and within them.The Heart of

  • RednessBy Zakes Mda Mda came toprominence as a dramatist in the 1970s; now he has flourished as a novelist. This, his second novel,won the 2001 Sunday Times Fiction Prize, and has become a school setwork. Weaving together twostrands of storytelling, the novel moves between the past and the present. In the past is thenarrative of Nongqawuse, the 19th century prophetess whose visions brought a message from theancestors and took her people to the brink of extermination. In the present time, 150 years later, afeud that dates back to the days of Nongqawuse still simmers in the village of Qolorha as it faces thedemands of modernity.Mafeking Road and Other StoriesBy Herman Charles Bosman

  • In an edition published to celebrate the50th anniversary of its first publication, this collection is a South African classic. In the voice of thesly old bushveld storyteller Oom Schalk Laurens, Bosman tells tales of a rural Afrikaner South Africathat has long since vanished yet the unique flavour and wry humour of the stories remainundiminished.Welcome to Our HillbrowBy Phaswane Mpe

  • Phaswane Mpe's first novel (shortlisted forthe 2002 Sunday Times Fiction Prize) is a variation on what was known as the "Jim Comes to Joburg"theme in South African literature. A man leaves his rural home in the north and comes to the big cityto find a new life. What he finds is a dangerous but vital inner city, epitomised by Hillbrow, the flat-land in the centre of Johannesburg where the well-heeled no longer set foot the "city of gold, milk,honey and bile". This is the land of drug deals, xenophobia, violence, sex and Aids, and this novel isan uncompromising look at the reality of the new South Africa as it affects the poorest of the urbanpopulation. It is also a story of love, survival and hope.Fools and Other StoriesBy Njabulo Ndebele

  • Ndebele is a noted academic and critic aswell as a writer of fiction. In this work, he carries out the brief argued in his essay "Rediscovery ofthe Ordinary", returning the gaze of the reader to the very human lives of township people andforgoing the rhetoric of political struggle, though that background is not ignored. His charactersdeal with the generation gap and the formative experiences of childhood in these warmly perceptivestories.A Place Called VatmaarBy AHM Scholtz

  • The author came to literature late in life,but was hailed as the "Steinbeck of the coloured South African platteland" - and produced abestseller that has now been translated all over the world. His novel, which is very close to actualhistory, tells the story of a village inhabited mostly by "coloureds", the mixed-race people of theCape, from its earliest beginnings. The various characters of the village's history speak, telling theirstories from their own perspectives to create a portrait of a whole community. Ancestral VoicesBy

  • Etienne van Heerden In its originalAfrikaans, titled Toorberg, Van Heerden's novel won all the prizes going in South Africa in the yearit was published. It draws on the tradition of the plaasroman (farm novel), and transforms it at thesame time, to tell the riveting transgenerational story of a family entangled with its ghosts - bothliving and dead. An utterly compelling read.A Dry White SeasonBy Andre Brink

  • This novel by one of South Africa's mostprolific authors, set in the 1970s, brought the issue of deaths in detention to the notice of many whowould rather have not known about it. When a white South African investigates the death of a blackfriend in police custody, he uncovers the brutal truth about apartheid South Africa. An interestingcompanion volume would be Cry Freedom, Donald Woods' non-fiction account of his friendship withBantu Steve Biko, the Black Consciousness leader murdered in custody by police.Zoo CityBy Lauren

  • Beukes In 2010, Lauren Beukes won theKitschies Red Tentacle Award for her phantasmagorical Zoo City; the following year, she won theArthur C Clarke Award for the novel, a hardboiled thriller about crime, magic, the music industry,refugees and redemption, set in a re-imagined Johannesburg. People who have committed a crimeare magically attached to an animal familiar; the chief protagonist, Zinzi December, is "animalled" toa sloth after getting her brother killed. Zinzi is attempting to repay the financial debt she owes herdrug dealer. It's a wild, fantastical ride.MoxylandBy Lauren Beukes

  • Published in 2008, Moxyland is acyberpunk novel set in a future Cape Town. It is a dystopian, corporate-apartheid political thriller inwhich cellphones are used for social control. Narrated by four different characters, each chapterfocuses on one of the narrators and her or his own experience living under an oppressive andpervasive government and media. Through her characters, Beukes illustrates a society wheretechnology rules with an iron fist and in doing so shows the limitations of freedom.The Story of an

  • African FarmBy Olive Schreiner The Storyof an African Farm, published in 1883 under the pseudonym Ralph Iron, has become recognised asone of the first feminist novels. It details the lives of three characters, first as children and then asadults Waldo, Em and Lyndall who live on a farm in the Karoo. The story is set in the middle- to late-nineteenth century. The book is semi-autobiographical: in particular, the two principal protagonists(Waldo and Lyndall) display strong similarities to Schreiner's life and philosophy. Although it quicklybecame a best-seller when it was first published, it caused some controversy over its frank portrayalof freethought, feminism, premarital sex and pregnancy out of wedlock, as well astransvestitism.PoetryThe New Century of South African PoetryEdited by Michael Chapman

  • This anthology is the ultimate overview ofSouth African poetry, reaching from its earliest manifestations in the oral culture of the land'sindigenous inhabitants to the complexities of post-apartheid verse. It includes translations from thecountry's many languages, discovering hitherto hidden voices as well as placing in context the best-known names of our rich poetic heritage.Various AnthologiesBy Mongane Wally Serote

  • Wally Serote's work goes back to the1970s, with his coruscating portraits of life as a black person in South Africa in those days. Thisvolume from this winner of the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa is a single long poem, drivenforward by incantatory rhythms, addressed to a people just emerging from the horrors of oppressionand now awakening to a new dawn.Inside and OutBy Jeremy Cronin

  • Bringing together the work from Cronin'stwo collections, Inside and Even the Dead, this volume is a comprehensive view of one of SouthAfrica's most popular poets. As a South Africa Communist Party member, Cronin's first poems werethe result of his incarceration by the apartheid regime, and Inside became possibly South Africa'sbest-selling work of poetry. With irony, compassion, honesty and a firm commitment to justice for all,Cronin's accessible poems speak about a wide range of South African experience.TransferBy Ingrid

  • de Kok This second volume by theacclaimed Cape Town poet registers the sea-changes that have taken place in our society, butthrough the sensitive and exact lyric voice of one dealing with memory, grief, love and motherhood:"the ladder of light / sent down from land above / where hands write words / to work the winch / toplumb the shaft below". If I Could Sing: Selected PoemsBy Keorapetse Kgositsile

  • An African National Congress stalwartwho spent many years in exile, Keorapetse Kgositsile is the author of the famous lines: "Need Iremind /anyone again that /armed struggle /is an act of love". His work over many years, collected inthis volume from several books, brings together the historical imperatives of the struggle againstapartheid with related personal concerns in free-flowing, imaginative verse.SouthAfrica.inforeporterUpdated 3 February 2016Would you like to use this article in your publication or on yourwebsite?See: Using SouthAfrica.info material