Books You Must Read By Or About Southern Africans

By Carri Wilbanks AFKI Original Published: May 21, 2014, 2:49 am

Whether you are curling up under a blanket or reading under a palm tree, here are some awesome books you must read by or about Southern Africans.


1. “Ghost Eater and Other Stories” by Diane Awerbuck

In 2004, Diane Awerbuck’s “Gardening at Night” won the Commonwealth Award for Best First Book. Her book of short stories, “Cabin Fever” is shortlisted for the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing. It’s safe to say that Awerbuck is talented. Her most recent work, “Ghost Eater,” lives up to her reputation. The collection of stories is true to Awerbuck’s quirky-but-passionate style. She is often sad and funny simultaneously.

2. “False River” by Dominique Botha

“False River” is a nostalgic semi-autobiography about siblings growing up on a farm during apartheid. Because of their parents’ leftist politics, the children are sent to boarding school in Natal. The narrator is Dominique, but the focus of the story is her rebellious older brother. Fed up with the oppression, he runs away to London, only to meet with tragedy. The book does an excellent job of looking at the complex situation through a child’s eyes. Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela

3. “The Bull From Moruleng: Vistas of Home and Exile” by Molefe Pheto                         

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison on Robben Island, some South Africans hoping for an armed rebellion. One was former political prisoner Molefe Pheto. In this story, he tells about his politically active exile in the U.K. and U.S., and his return to South Africa 20 years later. Upon returning home, he finds a new South Africa — one that perturbs him.

4. “The Story of Anna P, as Told by Herself” by Penny Busetto

“The Story of Anna P” is a tale which will confuse and intrigue you from the outset. It tells of a South African woman living on an Italian island who cannot remember how she got there. Through her strange actions (which include hiring a female prostitute just to cuddle with her), we start to question things like what it means to have no identity, no memory, and the implications of making ethical decisions without a sense of self.

5. “Dance with A Poor Man’s Daughter” by Pamela Jooste

Eleven-year old Lily tells the story of  the culture of the Cape Coloured community at the time when racial segregation plagued the country. When Lily’s mother returns to Cape Town determined to fight for justice for her family, Lily’s past and future unfold. Lily also shares how fear silenced others and how often community members would help to enforce apartheid laws.

6. “Maid in SA: 30 Ways to Leave Your Madam” by Zukiswa Wanner

Zukiswa Wanner gets into the gritty details of relationships between domestic workers and their employers. Despite the book taking on such a serious yet little-talked-about topic, the story is still quirky and fun.

7. “Broken Monster” by Lauren Beukes

This is a detective story like none you’ve ever read. South Africa-born author Lauren Beukes combines elements of surrealism with wit, darkness, and a whole spectrum of emotion. The story begins when Detroit Detective Gabriella Versado finds a body which is half boy, half deer. As the story unfolds, even stranger bodies are discovered.

8. “Zebra Crossing” by Meg Vandermerwe

“Zebra Crossing” is a chilling, suspenseful story of an albino girl named Chipo from Zimbabwe. The night before the World Cup, Chipo and her brother come to South Africa for a better life. What they don’t realize is how dangerous the city is for illegal immigrants. Chipo has the double stigma of also being albino.  They hatch a plan to make money exploiting gamblers’ superstitions about albinism. This isn’t just a story about tragic naivety, but what it’s like to live in someone else’s skin.

9. “The Hairdresser of Harare” by Tendia Huncha

“The Hairdresser of Harare” at first seems to be a funny story about competing hairdressers who eventually team up to make a thriving business. But, after a secret is revealed, you realize that this book is about overturning stereotypes and injustices in Zimbabwe today.

10. “Betrayal” by Adriaan van Dis

The protagonist in this story is Mulder, a former anti-apartheid Dutch activist. After 40 years, he returns to South Africa to reconnect with a fraternity buddy. What Mulder finds is a country still segregated and bursting at the seams with tension. When Mulder and his friend try to help a local kid strung out on meth, their good intentions are misconstrued.

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