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10 Books To Read Before Visiting South Africa

Before now, we have published various articles on exotic sites to visit in South Africa, top restaurants, top hotels, delicious dishes, e.t.c and am sure you must have been blown away.

Are you thinking about visiting SA for a family holiday or honeymoon or for other kinds of stuff? Well, there are some books that will expose more things about South Africa that you might not have come across on this site or anywhere else.

Before you visit South Africa it’s important to learn about its turbulent past and vibrant culture

If you don’t have time to read them all, I’ve put an asterisk (*) next to the books I most recommend.

Non-Fiction Books About South Africa 

1) Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela*

If you only read one book before visiting South Africa, make it Long Walk to Freedom. Nelson Mandela’s autobiography tells his inspiring story from childhood to the fight against apartheid, his 27 years in prison, and how he negotiated with his oppressors for the first democratic elections in South Africa and became president. It’s a long book but very much worthwhile and a truly remarkable story.

2) Invictus by John Carlin*

Invictus (also known as Playing the Enemy) is the perfect follow up to Long Walk to Freedom. It’s a moving and heart-warming story of how Nelson Mandela used the national rugby team, the Springboks—long an embodiment of white-supremacist rule—to bring together South Africans as they prepared to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Mandela reached out to his old enemies rather than punishing them for the sins of the past, as he knew that trying to understand them was the only way to peace.

The Invictus film is also worth seeing but the book is much more detailed.

3) Born a Crime by Trevor Noah*

Born a Crime is a fascinating memoir by South African comedian Trevor Noah, who now hosts The Daily Show. It focuses on his childhood, both pre and post apartheid, as a mixed race child at a time when his parents relationship was against the law. His stories are both funny and tragic as he struggles to find his place in a world where he wasn’t supposed to exist.

4) No Future Without Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu

No Future Without Forgiveness is the disturbing but inspiring story of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which aimed to help heal the country and bring about a reconciliation of its people by uncovering the truth about human rights violations that occurred during apartheid. The horrors of apartheid are hard to hear but the ability of many of the victims to forgive is impressive.

5) My Traitor’s Heart by Rian Malan

Rian Malan is a white liberal who descended from some of the most racist Afrikaners in South Africa. My Traitors Heart is a brutally honest look at his struggle with being an anti-apartheid white with many black friends who was still afraid of blacks during the height of the conflict in the 80s. This isn’t an easy read, featuring horrific tales of apartheid, but it’s a powerful book.

Novels Set in South Africa

6) Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton*

Cry, the Beloved Country is a classic South African novel from 1948. It’s a moving story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his children set against the background of a land and a people riven by racial injustice. It’s beautifully written, poetic, powerful, tragic and somewhat hopeful. It took me a while to get into it but I ended up loving it.

7) The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay*

The Power of One is a captivating novel about Peekay, a white boy of English descent growing up in South Africa in the 1930s and 40s. After being bullied by the Boers in his boarding school he meets a boxer on a train who changes his life and inspires his ambition to become the welterweight champion of the world. It’s a fantastic story with a rich cast of characters that’s about so much more than boxing.

8) Tandia by Bryce Courtenay

I was sad to leave Peekay behind when I finished The Power of One, so I was excited to discover there’s a sequel. Tandia follows Peekay during his university and adult years and introduces another major character, a mixed race Black/Indian girl. As in the first book, there are many disturbing scenes, but it’s a compelling read and I didn’t even realise it was 900 pages long until I finished it—I didn’t want it to end.

9) The Housemaid’s Daughter by Barbara Mutch

The Housemaid’s Daughter is set in a small town in South Africa’s Karoo desert region and follows the life of two women and their forbidden friendship: Ada, a black girl growing up in a white household as a maid and Cathleen, the mistress of the house, who resists the pressures of apartheid society and loves Ada like a daughter.

10) Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor

Bitter Fruit is set post apartheid during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It’s a bleak but gripping tale about a country facing reality after a miracle and how one family deals with the changing times.

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Written by How South Africa

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