12 South African Books Everyone Should Read (Even If You're Not South | The Cape Grocer

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12 South African Books Everyone Should Read (Even If You're Not South African)

"If you are going to get anywhere in life, you have to read a lot of books" Roald Dahl.

Books open our minds to new points of view, they challenge us, make us feel uncomfortable, and probably even change our world view. 

There  are "12 South African Must Read Books "  that we are showcasing today!


Each book is exhilarating!  Taking you on a journey of those who fought for freedom, challenged racial boundaries, uncovered the dark secrets of rhino conservation (yes we've inlcuded this too), and the personal trials that South Africans had to face with their families during the apartheid regime.

These books will compel you to make a change,  give you the power to educate those around you and also take a trip down memory lane with a touch of nostalgia!

From Zoe Wicomb " You Can't Get Lost In Cape Town" to Nelson Mandela's very own classic autobiography "Long Walk To Freedom", we've collated "12 South Africans Books That Everyone Should Read"


1. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela By Nelson Mandela


Nelson Mandela was one of the great moral and political leaders of his time: an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency of his country. After his triumphant release in 1990 from more than a quarter-century of imprisonment, Mandela was at the center of the most compelling and inspiring political drama in the world. As president of the African National Congress and head of South Africa's antiapartheid movement, he was instrumental in moving the nation toward multiracial government and majority rule. He is still revered everywhere as a vital force in the fight for human rights and racial equality.

Long Walk to Freedom is his moving and exhilarating autobiography, destined to take its place among the finest memoirs of history's greatest figures. Here for the first time, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela told the extraordinary story of his life -- an epic of struggle, setback, renewed hope, and ultimate triumph.

 Amazon Books: Long Walk To Freedom


2. No Future Without Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu 



The establishment of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a pioneering international event. Never had any country sought to move forward from despotism to democracy both by exposing the atrocities committed in the past and achieving reconciliation with its former oppressors. At the center of this unprecedented attempt at healing a nation has been Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whom President Nelson Mandela named as Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. With the final report of the Commission just published, Archbishop Tutu offers his reflections on the profound wisdom he has gained by helping usher South Africa through this painful experience.

In No Future Without Forgiveness, Tutu argues that true reconciliation cannot be achieved by denying the past.  But nor is it easy to reconcile when a nation "looks the beast in the eye." Rather than repeat platitudes about forgiveness, he presents a bold spirituality that recognizes the horrors people can inflict upon one another, and yet retains a sense of idealism about reconciliation. With a clarity of pitch born out of decades of experience, Tutu shows readers how to move forward with honesty and compassion to build a newer and more humane world.

 Amazon Books: No Future Without Forgiveness

4. Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation By John Carlin

Beginning in a jail cell and ending in a rugby tournament- the true story of how the most inspiring charm offensive in history brought South Africa together. After being released from prison and winning South Africa's first free election, Nelson Mandela presided over a country still deeply divided by fifty years of apartheid. His plan was ambitious if not far-fetched: use the national rugby team, the Springboks-long an embodiment of white-supremacist rule-to embody and engage a new South Africa as they prepared to host the 1995 World Cup. The string of wins that followed not only defied the odds, but capped Mandela's miraculous effort to bring South Africans together again in a hard-won, enduring bond.

Amazon Books: Playing With The Enemy


5. You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town by Zoë Wicomb


This collection of interlinked short stories focuses on Frieda Shenton, a young colored girl growing up in South Africa’s colored community in the 1960s.

Believing her best chance at success is to be as white as possible, Frieda’s parents send her to study in Cape Town to learn English in hopes that she will assimilate.

When she is old enough, Frieda escapes to England. She believes she will be free of the burden of her lineage, only to return a decade later to South Africa just before Apartheid begins to crumble.

You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town was one of the first South African novels to explore the topic of colored lives – particularly of women – in South Africa.

The book mirrors Wicomb’s own life as a colored South African who later left and returned – before ultimately moving to Scotland to teach.

Amazon Books: You Can't Get Lost In Cape Town


6.The Rhino Crash: A Memoir of Conservation, Unlikely Friendships and Self-Discovery By Nick Newman 


Catapulted into the grim world of rhino poaching, Nick Newman trades life in London for a humble, yet adventurous existence in South Africa. Tasked to monitor and protect critically endangered black rhinos, Nick soon cultivates an understanding of the different individual personalities and their temperamental behaviour by studying the animals in their natural environment.

Under constant threat of being poached for their horns, the rhinos become the pivot around which Nick and the Anti-Poaching Unit’s lives revolve. Nick shares raw moments of heartbreak and hope from the frontline, while taking the reader on an honest and humorous trip of his years spent in Africa. Dynamic characters who form part of his stories include his sidekick rhino-tracking dog, Wilma, and a black rhino named Elmore who becomes an integral part of his life.

Towards the end of his time in South Africa, mounting pressure catches up with Nick and he soon finds himself in a care facility in Spain where he is forced to go on a journey of self-discovery to confront his mental health. It is also here where he learns to understand his affinity with the rhinos which he had come to love more than life itself.


Amazon Books: The Rhino Crash


7. Kaffir Boy - The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa 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 Mark 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 Mark Mathabane did what no physically and psychologically battered "Kaffir" from the rat-infested alleys of Alexandra was supposed to do -- he escaped to tell about it.

Amazon Books: Kaffir Boy


8.My Traitor's Heart: A South African Exile Returns to Face His Country, His Tribe, and His Conscience By Rian Malan

A classic of literary nonfiction, My Traitor's Heart has been acclaimed as a masterpiece by readers around the world. Rian Malan is an Afrikaner, scion of a centuries-old clan and relative of the architect of apartheid, who fled South Africa after coming face-to-face with the atrocities and terrors of an undeclared civil war between the races. This book is the searing account of his return after eight years of uneasy exile. Armed with new insight and clarity, Malan explores apartheid's legacy of hatred and suffering, bearing witness to the extensive physical and emotional damage it has caused to generations of South Africans on both sides of the color line. Plumbing the darkest recesses of the white and black South African psyches, Malan ultimately finds his way toward the light of redemption and healing. My Traitor's Heart is an astonishing book -- beautiful, horrifying, profound, and impossible to put down 

Amazon Books: My Traitors Heart


9. A Dry White Season By Andre Brink

As startling and powerful as when first published more than two decades ago, André Brink's classic novel, A Dry White Season, is an unflinching and unforgettable look at racial intolerance, the human condition, and the heavy price of morality.

Ben Du Toit is a white schoolteacher in suburban Johannesburg in a dark time of intolerance and state-sanctioned apartheid. A simple, apolitical man, he believes in the essential fairness of the South African government and its policies—until the sudden arrest and subsequent "suicide" of a black janitor from Du Toit's school. Haunted by new questions and desperate to believe that the man's death was a tragic accident, Du Toit undertakes an investigation into the terrible affair—a quest for the truth that will have devastating consequences for the teacher and his family, as it draws him into a lethal morass of lies, corruption, and murder

 It is ironic that while reading this account of defying prejudice, I found myself prejudging the entire book based on the rather irrelevant and minor frame story at the beginning, and worked myself up into such a fit of disdain that I very nearly abandoned this brave and important work by André Brink.

Brink risked his own reputation and safety to speak out about prejudice and injustice in South Africa in the late 1970s.

Amazon Books: A Dry White Season

10. Biko: The struggle of the Black Consciousness Movement by Donald Woods

‘You are either alive and proud or you are dead … and your method of death can be a politicizing thing’ - Steve Biko Founder of the Black Consciousness Movement, Steve Biko was a natural target for the South African authorities. On 13 August 1977, Steve Biko was arrested, interrogated and beaten. On 12 September he was dead. Editor of a leading anti-apartheid paper, Donald Woods was a friend of Steve Biko and went into exile in order to write his testimony about the life and work of a remarkable man.

Amazon Books: Biko


11. A Change of Tongue by Antjie Krog


Amazon Books: A Change Of Tongue


12. Let My People Go By Albert


Albert Luthuli's extraordinary story is also that of the African National Congress, which he led for fifteen years. Luthuli's lively first-hand account tells of the repression and resistance that were to shape the South African political landscape forever: the Defiance Campaign - the first mass challenge to apartheid, the drafting of the Freedom Charter, the Treason Trial and the tragedies of Sharpeville and Langa. Albert Luthuli was the first black African man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This book bears witness to Luthuli's unfailing humility, perseverance, and passionate commitment to the values of non-racialism and non-sexism. His vision, crucial to the shaping of the South Africa we live in today, continues to move and inspire.

Amazon Books: Let My People Go



Book summaries take from:




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