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Ultimate SA: 10 must-read books from South African authors

This Heritage Month, we are looking to celebrate the best of South Africa and this, of course, includes our literature. Picture: Armando Herdade/Xinhua

This Heritage Month, we are looking to celebrate the best of South Africa and this, of course, includes our literature. Picture: Armando Herdade/Xinhua

Published Sep 24, 2020


This Heritage Month, we are celebrating the best of South Africa and this, of course, includes our literature.

Here are our picks for the books that belong on your proudly South African shelf.

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1. Lansdowne Dearest: My family’s story of forced removals by Bronwyn Davids

It’s always wonderful when you know the author personally – it is as though you can hear them telling you the story. Davids’s book is an authentic South African family story set against the background of apartheid forced removals. It is gut wrenching and it is beautiful. An Important book. Highly recommended.

2. Trevor Noah's Born a Crime

An eye-opener into the childhood of comedian and Daily Show host Trevor Noah. The seriousness of the situation of growing up in apartheid South Africa intermingled with his humour makes this a pleasurable read.

3. The Last Hunt – Deon Meyer

This sixth instalment of my favourite South African crime writer Deon Meyer finds Benny Griessel and Vaughn Cupido back in fine fettle, doing what they do best – probing a possible murder. Meyer's book is really a superb novel –thoroughly contemporary and relevant yet ravishingly gripping. Immaculately researched, the action wavers between breathless encounters to stunning descriptions of the French countryside and bucolic scenes to some complex soul-searching scenes. Thoroughly gripping and infinitely readable.

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4. Grace – a novel by Barbara Boswell

While this is a fictional account of a family on the Cape Flats living with the “open secret” of domestic violence, we know it is reality in many SA homes. The novel traces the main character’s development from a young girl who witnesses violence almost daily, into adulthood and motherhood. It is beautifully written and is one of those books that stays with you forever.

5. My Mother’s Laughter: Selected Poems – Chris van Wyk

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Most readers will know Chris van Wyk as the author of Shirley, Goodness & Mercy and its sequel, Eggs to Lay, Chickens to Hatch, both memoirs published in the decade before Van Wyk’s untimely death of cancer in 2014. My Mother’s Laughter brings together a selection from the debut volume, also the poems which appeared in Van Wyk’s memoirs, and includes previously unpublished work, showcasing the much-loved author’s poetic talent. Inescapably, many of the poems from It Is Time to Go Home are set against the socio-political landscape of its time, but even decades later they radiate an energy of awareness and resistance that seems timeless and inspires to action against injustice.

6. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

South Africa's first black President, who personifies the struggle for human rights and racial equality, recounts his life. It is an epic tale with a triumphant ending that would scarcely have been credible just a few years ago: from a traditional Tembu childhood, through political activism, the founding of the ANC, life imprisonment for treason and violent conspiracy, 27 years behind bars, to release in 1990 and the first multi-racial elections in 1994. Mandela is clear, eloquent and inspiring in this deeply moving testament to idealism, charity and hope.

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7. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

The most famous and important novel in South Africa's history, and an immediate worldwide bestseller when it was published in 1948, Alan Paton's impassioned novel about a black man's country under white man's law is a work of searing beauty. Cry, the Beloved Country is the deeply moving story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son, Absalom, set against the background of a land and a people riven by racial injustice. Remarkable for its lyricism, unforgettable for character and incident, Cry, the Beloved Country is a classic work of love and hope, courage and endurance, born of the dignity of man.

8. Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane

Mark Mathabane was weaned on devastating poverty and schooled in the cruel streets of South Africa's most desperate ghetto, where bloody gang wars and midnight police raids were his rites of passage. Like every other child born in the hopelessness of apartheid, he learned to measure his life in days, not years. Yet Mathabane, armed only with the courage of his family and a hard-won education, raised himself up from the squalor and humiliation to win a scholarship to an American university. This extraordinary memoir of life under apartheid is a triumph of the human spirit over hatred and unspeakable degradation. For Mathabane did what no physically and psychologically battered "k***ir" from the rat-infested alleys of Alexandra was supposed to do – he escaped to tell the story.

9. Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog

In this book, Antjie Krog, a South African journalist and poet who covered the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recounts the drama, the horrors, the wrenching personal stories of the victims and their families. Through the testimonies of victims of abuse and violence, from the appearance of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to former South African president PW Botha's extraordinary courthouse press conference, this award-winning poet leads us on an amazing journey.

10. Disgrace by JM Coetzee

After years teaching Romantic poetry at UCT, David Lurie, middle-aged and twice divorced has an impulsive affair with a student. The affair sours; he is denounced and summoned before a committee of inquiry. Willing to admit his guilt, but refusing to yield to pressure to repent publicly, he resigns and retreats to daughter Lucy’s isolated smallholding. For a time, his daughter’s influence and the natural rhythms of the farm promise to harmonise his discordant life. But the balance of power in the country is shifting. He and Lucy become victims of a savage and disturbing attack which brings into relief all the faultlines in their relationship.

* All books are available at

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