The best apartheid books (South Africa) 📚

Browse the best books on the apartheid as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Helen Suzman: Bright Star in a Dark Chamber

Helen Suzman: Bright Star in a Dark Chamber

By Robin Renwick

Why this book?

This is a heart-warming true story of the courage of one woman you have probably never heard of but you need to. A woman of great courage and integrity who took on the South African apartheid regime and for a while as a liberal was the only opposition member (and I think the only woman) in the racist all-white parliament. Some are naturally courageous, some have courage thrust upon them. Nelson Mandela and the ANC took on the racist regime from outside, Helen Suzman almost single-handedly took it on from within parliament. A real hero.
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Book cover of Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa

Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa

By Mark Mathabane

Why this book?

As an African-American, raised in the Bantustans of America (Chicago – Southside/Westside/Northside) and called the N-word (cutified to “N-word”) and subjected to ALL of the shit Amerikkka has plastered in my face; I feel that some sensitive White folks might understand what a “Bantustan” feels like. For those who believe that these “Bantustans” are only in places like Africa or India. I suggest you reexamine our country. You should take a look into the Bantustans along the freeways, roadways in America today. This book should open your eyes to the fact that MOST PEOPLE do not want to live below…
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Book cover of Move Your Shadow: South Africa, Black and White

Move Your Shadow: South Africa, Black and White

By Joseph Lelyveld

Why this book?

Move Your Shadow is a masterpiece of reportage. Lelyveld, a former executive editor of the New York Times, spent considerable periods in apartheid South Africa in both the 1960s and the 1980s. The sixties was the period of “baaskap”—“bosshood” apartheid, when the perverse racist cruelties of the system were imposed with a sledgehammer. I would call the eighties the era of “facelift” apartheid—why, the word was hardly used by the regime anymore. 

To paraphrase Gramsci, the old world was dying, a new one struggled to be born. Monsters abounded. Nobody captured the period better than Lelyveld. The chapter on Philip…

From the list:

The best books about Southern Africa as picked by a historian

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Book cover of Cry, the Beloved Country

Cry, the Beloved Country

By Alan Paton

Why this book?

I wrote my first novel thirty years after I left South Africa. During the writing, I reread Cry, the Beloved Country. The tone of that book, the cadences of the language, almost biblical, as well as the emotional seriousness in the telling, crept into my own style.

This is a heartbreaking book, told from a very personal perspective, yet universal in its themes.

Can a work of art change the world? Perhaps not on the grand political stage, but most certainly it can change the way we see the world, and thus change us for the better.

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Book cover of The Lying Days

The Lying Days

By Nadine Gordimer

Why this book?

I stumbled across this coming-of-age story by one of my favourite South African writers in a second-hand bookshop in Oxford when I was an undergraduate. I hadn’t been able to lose myself in fiction for a couple of years because I was so immersed in academic reading (history, mostly) – but this novel got me back on the wagon. It was the first novel I’d read in a long time that really made me want to write, to tell a story that could move a reader in the same way. In it, a white, middle-class girl growing up in a…

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Book cover of Rumours of Rain

Rumours of Rain

By Andre Brink

Why this book?

A true South African classic. Told from an Afrikaner point of view which is an unusual experience for me as someone with modern liberal sensibilities, this is a grown-up psychological and political thriller about loyalties, conflict, and betrayals set against the shadow of the Angola conflict and the beginning of the end of apartheid.

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