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Top Ten books about South Africa - My List

Updated on February 12, 2018
From my library -some made it into the top ten, others didn't
From my library -some made it into the top ten, others didn't
Cape Recife Light house in the Eastern Cape-books are like a light to the mind.
Cape Recife Light house in the Eastern Cape-books are like a light to the mind. | Source

Books to read about South Africa: My short list.

!. A History of South Africa by Robert Lacour-Gayet.

Start with a basic history and the one written a by this French writer who covers the history from the “discovery” by Portuguese Explorers to the beginning of Apartheid is a good one. Lacour-Gayet is one of the foremost French historians and while he tells the story from a “white man’s” viewpoint he does so with a refreshing impartiality, not always found in other South African history books.

2. The Covenant by James Mitchener.

Written for the popular audience it is well researched and gives ‘an easy to read’ account of South African history. What amazed me when I read the book is how this renowned writer looked into the future and in many ways was spot on.

3. Cry my beloved country by Alan Paton.

Written in 1948 at the same time that Apartheid was introduced into the law books of South Africa it is a classic not to be missed even today. Set in the story of two fathers searching for their sons, it focusses on the inequalities in society and the tragic results that this brings.

4. Biko by Donald Woods.

This book opened my eyes to what was going on in South Africa. Banned in South Africa I read it during a visit to the USA. Later a film was made about Biko and Woods called Cry Freedom but that did not really impress me-the book did. Steve Biko was the founder of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa. The horror of what was happening under the apartheid government is dramatically revealed here.

5. The Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela.

A must read because it tells the story of a great man from his point of view. The movie Invictus describes a moment in his life as South Africa competes in the Rugby World Cup and Madiba shows his political wisdom as he captures the hearts of a rugby mad white South Africa by attending the opening match in Cape Town wearing a Springbok rugby jersey. In his book he sketches his life from a young Xhosa man in Qunu in the Transkei to his release from prison and his appointment and challenges as President.

6. Good Morning Mr Mandela by Zelda la Grange.

An amazing journey of a white South African ‘boeremeisie’ (Afrikaner girl) to become firstly one of President Mandela’s secretaries to his personal secretary after his ‘retirement’ from the public life. It speaks of a life of excitement, challenges and disappointment as she travels with ‘Khulu’ (Grandfather) as she calls him.

7. Nothing left to steal by Mzilikazi wa Africa.

Mzilikazi introduces the reader to the corruption that is taking place in South Africa and in many other African countries, but also to what life was like growing up as a young African boy from Bushbuck Ridge in Apartheid South Africa – something all white South African’s who grew up on the other side of the colour line should know.

8. Shaka Zulu by E. A. Ritter.

Another classic from South African history. An account of the life of one of Africa’s great warrior Kings. Researched from documents by people who came into contact with him and also oral traditions from elders in the Zulu Nation. Interesting from the insight that is gives to his war methods and also the early fighting among the Bantu tribes and their final distribution in the area.

9. Frontiers by Noel Mostert.

An amazing book that describes the arrival of the western powers in the Cape and then goes on to document the conflict that developed between the white settlers and the Xhosa Tribe. Mostert, born in South Africa and then moving to Canada he had his first book Supership(about life on an oil tanker) unanimously voted for a Pulitzer Award, but then disqualified because of his Canadian citizenship. He is an historian of note. His account of the Suicide of the Xhosa nation was of particular interest to me.

10. The Lost World of the Kalahari by Laurens van der Post.

This account by the writer of his personal journey into the Kalahari Desert is a classic story that shows his concern and compassion for a group of people whose lived have been changed forever by the arrival of western ‘civilization’. His follow up book ‘The Heart of a Hunter’ is another of the 21 books he has had published. He was knighted in 1981. I would replace this book with Lawrence G Green's KAROO that I have read recently. While not as famous as vd Post's book it gives a better picture of the Bushmen.


Some have a certain sentimental meaning to me. Others are in my opinion classics of South African History. It is interesting and totally co-incidental that several are written by authors with a French Huguenot background as I also have. I would love to hear from you about your top ten and may follow this list up with a composite list. Remember these are dealing with a particular theme, South African History.

On my personal wish list of books to be read in the near future are the following:

I write what I like by Steve Biko

Conversations with myself by Nelson Mandela

The President's men


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    • Johan Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

      Johan Smulders 

      3 years ago from East London, South Africa

      It is a relatively recent publication

    • Heidi Smulders profile image

      Heidi Smulders 

      3 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks I really enjoyed reading this. Mostert's Frontiers is one of my favourites, especially because it focuses on the Eastern Cape (where we live). I still haven't read Alan Paton's Cry the Beloved Country, I'm not sure why but probably because even the title seems heavy. Maybe I should give it a try now. When was Nothing Left to Steal published? Interested to know how recent it is. One of my favourites, although it's not about SA as such, just set here, is Dalene Matthee's Kringe in die bos, set in the forests of Knysna.


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