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Iconic South African Writers

Updated on July 24, 2016

The beginning of South African Literature.

Both good and bad accounts of South Africa’s past have influenced the many styles of the countries modern literature. South African literature has become as diverse as its people. With works written in all 11 languages of the country and with stories pulled from a diverse span of cultures and beliefs. Originally the cultural groups of Southern Africa were known for their oral story telling. These oral works have been passed down from one generation to another. Some eventually became written down and archived as important historical pieces. Fictional works were first introduced into South Africa by the Colonial writers. Throughout the history of South Africa, many writers emerged with iconic literature. Some of which are known all over the world. Here are some of the most Iconic writers of South Africa

J RR Tolkein

Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, Free State in 1982. He is best known his fantasy works ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ as well as ‘The Silmarillion’. J R R Tolkein was a poet, writer and academic of Oxford in 1925. In 972 he was appointed by Queen Elisabeth II as the Commander of the order of the British Empire. His books derived from personal manuscripts and notes sent to his son Christopher. Upon Tolkeins death, Christopher had his father’s works published and Tolkien became the father of the modern high-fantasy genre.


Athol Fugard

Fugard was born in 1932 in Middelburg, Eastern Cape. A novelist, playwright and actor, Fugard was known for works dealing with South Africans Apartheid era. Producing works now coined as Township Plays and also his 2005 academy award winning film ‘Tsotsi’. His most notable work was ‘Master Harold and the boys’ was banned in South Africa during the Apartheid era but soon became a prmier on Broadway in 1982.

Ingrid Jonker

Born in 1933, Jonker was known primarily for her Afrikaans poetry. She grew up in Douglas, Northern Cape. Her work has been translated into many different languages. Her work was a reflection of the unfortunate events throughout her life. Her mother committed suicide when she was only 10. Later she too committed suicide and in 1965 her work was commemorated with the prestigious “Ingrid Jonker Prize” of South Africa. One of her best known works translated into six different languages was ‘A son after my heart’.


Zakes Mda

Mda was born in 1948 in Herschel, Eastern Cape. A novelist, poet and playwright; Mda has won major literary awards both in South African and in the United Kingdom. Legally Zanemvula Kizito Gatyeni Mda, he adopted Zakes Mda as his pen name and began to teach English in the UK and South Africa. Recently he moved to the USA Ohio and began teaching at the Ohio University in Athens. Mda’s works include ‘Ways of Dying’ and ‘The Heart of Redness’

Sol Plaatjie

Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje was a South African journalist, novelist, politician and writer. He was born in 1932 in Doornfontein, Boshof, Free State. He founded the South African Native National Congress which later became known as the ANC of which Nelson Mandela was president. Plaatjie was one of eight children and at a young age. He adopted Plaatjie as his surname after his employer began calling him so. He was known for translating Shakespearian plays and his iconic work “The Boer War Diary of Sol T Plaatjie: An African at Mafikeng.


Wilbur Smith

Wilbur Addison Smith was a historical fiction writer born in Northern Rhodesia in 1933. His works span across many African families and near over three centuries of historical events. The locations of his stories range from the Cape of South Africa to the Pyramids of Egypt. His writing career kicked off after his first novel ‘When the Lion Feeds’ received a film contract. He achieved a selling of 35 novels in 2014 with a remarkable 120 million copies sold internationally. He produced three series in his career titled: ‘The Courtney Series’, ‘The Ballantyne Series’ and ‘The Ancient Egypt Series’.


Breyten Breytenbach

Breytenbach is a well known painter and writer born in Bonnievale, Western Cape in 1939. One of his most popular works involves his seven years imprisonment in South Africa in 1975 titled ‘The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist’. He moved to France upon release and obtained his French citizenship before returning to South Africa. He produced iconic Afrikaans works like ‘Lotus’ and ‘The House of the Deaf’ that were translated into English. His art is also widely renowned, having been displayed in galleries in Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Cape Town, New York City and Amsterdam.



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