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South African Literature

Updated on April 21, 2018
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Devika enjoys sharing her work with a friendly community. Writing is a big part of her life. Online work has improved her lifestyle.

What I learned about Southern African Literature

I always had an interest in literature and somehow over the years, I lost that touch.

Recently, I had to go back and look for the best about literature, and not only about William Shakespeare.

I focused on Southern African Literature.

The heroes, villains, victims, and oppressors who have spanned the pages of Southern African literary history over the past two hundred years ago.

So often seem far more real than their counterparts in other parts of the world.

It seldom seems to matter what their backgrounds are usually the opposite of the people who read about them.

Thus, residents of city suburbs have come out rooting for Darlene Matthee's woodcutters of the lonely Knysna forest. The simple Afrikaner tenant farmers of Pauline Smith's Little Karoo, the raucous patrons of Can Themba's Soweto, and even for the gutsy Poppie Nongena.

Abrahams Lionel

He was born in Johannesburg in 1928 and was a poet, editor, publisher, and man of letters. Abrahams has edited the stories of Herman Charles Bosman the published work of the black poets in the seventies such as Mtshali and Serote and founded the literary magazine.

''The Purple Renoster,'' he is the author of several collections of poetry and a sequence of stories entitled The Celibacy of Felix Green-span in 1977.

His poetry reflects the Johannesburg urban scene and represents of South African liberal humanism at its best. Abrahams has twice won the Thomas Pringle Prize for Poetry in 1977 and 1987 and is also the recipient of the Olive Schreiner Prize in 1986.

African-language Literature

Literature in the various African languages of South Africa includes the oral as well the written form. The best-known oral form is the praise poem.

In Zulu, isibongo, recited by a praise-singer or imbongi.

Written literature begins with the missionaries and their mission presses, and with early black newspapers such as ''Imvo Zabantsunda,'' which was established in 1884.

Major writers include in Sesotho, Thomas Mofolo; in Xhosa, S E K Mqayi and A C Jordan; and in Zulu, R R R Dhlomo and BW Vilakazi. The finest novel is AC Jordan's Ingqumbo Yeminyanya written in the year of 1940 and was published in English as The Wrath of the Ancestors in 1980.

During the apartheid years, many writers found themselves restricted to producing the kind of works that would be approved for use in schools.

Afrikaans literature

Although Afrikaans became one of South Africa's official languages only in 1925, the struggle for recognition of the language in the face of British Imperialism dates back at least to the 1870s.

By the early years of the twentieth century several major writers were being published: Eugene Marais's poem ''Winternag' (Winter Night) in 1905, is usually regarded as a kind of watershed. There were major creative periods by Wyk Louw, Uys Krige, Elisabeth Eybers.

These marked a decisive break with more conventional rural themes and by the ''Sestigers' of the 1960s such as Etienne Leroux Andre P Brink, and Breyten Breytenbach, expressing a new sexual and political freedom.

Cry, the Beloved Country

A novel by Alan Paton which attracted international attention to South Africa when first published in 1948. It tells the story of the Reverend Stephen Kumalo, an elderly African priest who leaves his home in rural Natal to travel to Johannesburg in search of his son.

Absolom. He finds tragedy and suffering and undergoes a crisis of faith. Parallel to his story is that of the white farmer Jarvis, whose son has been murdered by Absolom.

The novel is characterized by lyrical description, biblical cadences, and a yearning for a lost innocence and wholeness.

It was turned into a Broadway musical in 1949 and has been the subject of two films in 1952 and in 1995.

FitzPatrick, Sir James Percy a popular novelist, and author of South Africa's most famous children's book, Jock of the Bushveld in 1907. Born to King Williams Town, FitzPatrick worked as a transport rider, digger, and journalist. A friend of Cecil Rhodes, he was briefly imprisoned after the Jameson Raid and was knighted in 1902.

South Africa's best-loved children's book written by Percy FitzPatrick was based on his own experience as a transport rider in the Eastern Transvaal.

It describes the bond that develops between a boy and his pup as they grow to maturity. It is also a fine evocation of a frontier of lifestyle. The book, which has been reprinted many times, was made into a film in 1986 and again in 1995 was my favorite story.

Smith Wilbur


A South African bestselling novelist, whose reputation was established with his first novel such as, Where the Lion Feeds in 1964, His racy narratives are packed with action and adventure in an African setting and have to date sold sixty-five million copies worldwide.

Ancient Egypt is the setting of his most recent novels. River God and The Seventh Scroll. Several of his novels have been made into Hollywood films.

Plaatje, Sol T


A remarkable man, Plaatje was the first black South African to write a novel in English. Mhudi, published in 1930 but written by 1920, is a historical romance that explores the human and historical impact of events in the northwest of South Africa in the 1830s.

Its central event is the defeat of Mzilikazi by a combined force of Boers, Barolong, and Griquas. Plaatje was also a leader of the then South African Native National Congress, later the ANC, a journalist and newspaper editor, a linguist and translator of Shakespeare into Setswana.

He also wrote Native Life in South Africa, in 1916 which documents the effects of the Land Act of 1913. Plaatje was present at the Siege of Mafeking and his diary was later discovered and published in 1973.

''Drum'' Writers

A new generation of urbanized South Africans who worked at ‘‘Drum’’ magazine in the nineteen fifties and lived in Sophia-town. This talented group of individuals forged a new, racy township idiom, and their work signaled a renaissance in black writing.

Outstanding figures were Can Themba, Es'kia Mphahlele, Bloke Modisane, Todd Matshikiza, Nat Nakasa and Casey Motsisi.

They wrote mainly short stories, for which to write autobiographies. The political repression that came after the Sharpeville shootings brought this era to an abrupt end.

Themba can perhaps be the most talented of the Drum Writers, Themba embodied the hard-living, hard-drinking lifestyle associated with 'Drum' magazine and the shebeen culture of his beloved Sophia-town.

He never fulfilled his literary promise; what remains apart from the journalism are a few short stories and one or two penetrating auto-biographical pieces. His work was published in The Will to Die in 1972 and The World of Can Themba in 1985.

Exile Literature

A term commonly used to describe the literature of writers driven into exile as a result of their opposition to apartheid. The first wave of departures was prompted by the Sharpeville shootings and the repression of the 1960s.

Writers such as Alex La Guma, Can Themba, Denis Brutus, Es'kia Mphahlele, Lewis Nkosi and Bloke Modisane all left at this time, mostly on one-way exit permits. While articulating their political commitment, their writing is often informed by a sense of alienation and homesickness.

Many writers died in exile, though some, such as Mphahlele and Serote have returned. Different responses to exile can be seen in the work of writers as diverse as Arthur Nortje, Bessie had, Zoe Wicomb, Farida Karodia and, among whites, David Wright, Dan Jacobson, and Christopher Hope.

I learned more about other African Writers including Wilbur Smith and FitzPatrick Sir James Percy all have enlightened my knowledge of talented literary writers.

South African Literary Writers

Cry, the Beloved Country one of my best stories the ground breaker, twice filmed. Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country starred James Earl Jones as the Reverend Stephen Kumalo in the 1995 version.
Cry, the Beloved Country one of my best stories the ground breaker, twice filmed. Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country starred James Earl Jones as the Reverend Stephen Kumalo in the 1995 version. | Source
Wordsmiths for more than thirty years Wilbur Smith has remained one of the world's top-selling adventure-story writers.His wife has written two books under the name Danielle Thomas.
Wordsmiths for more than thirty years Wilbur Smith has remained one of the world's top-selling adventure-story writers.His wife has written two books under the name Danielle Thomas. | Source
A legendary pet Percy FitzPatrick's famous companion, depicted by E Caldwell, who illustrated editions of Jock of the Bushveld.
A legendary pet Percy FitzPatrick's famous companion, depicted by E Caldwell, who illustrated editions of Jock of the Bushveld. | Source

Jock of the Bushveld

South African Literary Works

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© 2014 Devika Primić

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    • DDE profile imageAUTHOR

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      jtrader thank you for sharing your thoughtful comments

    • jtrader profile image

      jtrader 

      4 years ago

      Learned so much more about South African writers and culture through this article DDE.

    • DDE profile imageAUTHOR

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Cherylann Mollan thank you kindly for stopping by I appreciate your presence at my hubs.

    • Cherylann Mollan profile image

      Cherylann Mollan 

      4 years ago from India

      Hi DDE! Thank you for this informative hub. In my college days, I did read a lot of Africa-American literature and was taken up by their moving themes and plots that unraveled both, the resilience and depravity of the human spirit. Your hub has definitely peaked my interest in South African literature now. Will surely look up some of the authors you've written about. :)

    • DDE profile imageAUTHOR

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      thank you MG Singh

    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 

      4 years ago from Singapore

      Nice highlight of South africa.

    • DDE profile imageAUTHOR

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      VioletteRose your kindness is appreciated

    • DDE profile imageAUTHOR

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      midget38 thank you for stopping by I appreciate your kindness

    • VioletteRose profile image

      VioletteRose 

      4 years ago from Chicago

      This is interesting, very informative and great pictures. Thank you

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks for sharing these, will definitely check them out, DDE!

    • DDE profile imageAUTHOR

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Thank you Eiddwen

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      4 years ago from Wales

      Very interesting indeed DDE and voted up for sure.

      Eddy.

    • DDE profile imageAUTHOR

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      MartieCoetser thank you well stated

    • DDE profile imageAUTHOR

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Hi kidscrafts thank you for sharing your kind comments I appreciate your time and effort have a lovely weekend

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      4 years ago from South Africa

      Excellent coverage of South African literature!

      Signed: Proudly South African.

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 

      4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Great hub about South African literature, Devika! I think I read "Cry, the Beloved Country" by Alan Paton a long time ago (translated in French because I didn't know English at the time). You made me discover a new world of authors with this hub! Very interesting hub, Devika!

      Have a nice day!

    • DDE profile imageAUTHOR

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Thank you billy so kind of you to come by I appreciate your time and effort

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very interesting. I love learning about other cultures and I rely on my HP friends to educate me.

    • DDE profile imageAUTHOR

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Hi Jodah my favorite is Jock of the Bushveld Wilbur Smith still has the best thank you very much for commenitng

    • DDE profile imageAUTHOR

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Hi ChitrangadaSharan so kind of you to stop by here I appreciate your efforts thank you

    • DDE profile imageAUTHOR

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Hello Faith thank you for all votes, I found interest in South African literature and thought why not write about it so glad you came by.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      4 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Interesting hub Devika. I have only heard of Wibur Smith before and have a few of his books. He was my father's favorite author.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      So thoughtful of you to share some of the facts of South African Literature. Now I can say I have some idea about South African Literature.

      Interesting and informative hub!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      4 years ago from southern USA

      Excellent hub here dear Devika. Thank you for sharing all about South African Literature. I must find some of these wonderful works and read them for sure.

      Up and more and sharing

      Have a lovely day,

      Faith Reaper

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