#WomensMonth: Celebrating the legacy of women writers

By Orielle Berry Time of article published Aug 6, 2018

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South African women writers are warriors aiming for peace and equality through words. It can be said that their work is squarely placed within the context of both personal and political struggles. 

This week, we celebrate the thousands of women who have had the courage and often, the sheer tenacity against the odds, to get their work published -  voices for women and humanity in general.

Nadine Gordimer remains one of the most iconic authors of our time. Born in Springs in 1923, Gordimer won the Nobel prize for Literature in 1991 and was also the recipient of the Booker Prize and more than 25 other literary awards as well as 15 honorary degrees. 

When she passed away in 2014, her remarkable legacy of work included several books that were banned during the apartheid years.  

The Late Bourgeois World was banned for 10 years; A World of Strangers for 12 years; as well as several others of her works. She was not only a political activist, belonging to the ANC when it was an illegal organisation but fought against censorship and state control of information and took up the cudgels for many international causes as well. 

Her first novel, The Lying Days, published in 1953 was semi-autobiographical, about growing up in a small town. Her last novel published in 2012, No Time Like the Present, dealt with the issues of HIV/Aids, corruption and unemployment and poverty.  She penned many collections of short stories, plays and a number of essays during her long and distinguished life as a most prolific and highly revered writer. 

"Writing is making sense of life. You work your whole life and perhaps you've made sense of one small area, " said Gordimer.

Beverley Naidoo pens children's books. She was born in South Africa but left during the apartheid years to live in exile in London.

She married a fellow South African and although she always loved books and reading she only started writing when her own children were growing up. Her first book, Journey to Jo'burg, won The Other Award in Britain. It opened a window onto children's struggles under apartheid. It was banned in 1985 until 1991, the year after Nelson Mandela was released from jail.   

The Other Side of Truth won the Carnegie Medal in 2000, the first time in 64 years that a book with African characters had taken the prize. It went on to win numerous other awards as well. 

Pumla Gqola's book Reflecting Rogue was the best selling title at last year’s Open Book Festival. She writes fiction and non-fiction and her hard-hitting work Rape: A South African Nightmare, published in 2015, won the Alan Paton Award 2016. 

The Open Book Festival takes place from September 5 to September 9 in Cape Town in which Gqola will appear again.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is one of the exciting new generations of writers who is not only the author of controversial book Sorry not Sorry but is a freelance journalist writing for a number of publications and has established herself as a digital media specialist. 

In her book, published last year, she pulls no punches as she explores the experience of moving through post-apartheid South Africa as a woman of colour and examines the social landscape.

Her writing is also included in Writing What We Like (edited by Yolisa Qunta) and Feminism Is (edited by Jen Thorpe). Sorry, Not Sorry is her first book.


Sisonke Msimang is the author of Always Another Country: A Memoir of Exile and Home, a deeply personal book about being born in exile and longing and belonging. 

Msimang's honest, at times heart-rending and anguished account is one of contemporary literature's finest with beautifully-structured descriptive languages that fall effortlessly off her pen. She's a Ruth First fellow and also a columnist focusing on feminism, gender, politics and social activism.

Book Images: Sourced


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