Year 10 books
You are in: surefish > culture > books > Books on South Africa
Date: 25 April, 2004

To order any of the titles, and raise money for Christian Aid, click on the title or cover of the book.
'His stinging criticism of Western Christianity's obsession with servanthood should be compulsory reading.'

Charlotte Haines Lyon reviews ten books about South Africa to mark the country's tenth anniversary of the end of apartheid.

To order any of the books, and raise money for Christian Aid, click on its title or cover

A World with a Human Face; A voice from Africa
Njongonkulu Ndungane

The Archbishop of Cape Town doesn't waste paper - he takes a mere chapter to detail his journey from incarceration to his current lofty position. He then manages to challenge, educate and inspire in the remaining 100 pages of this impressive book.

Assessing the current state of South Africa, he accuses globalisation of exacerbating the poverty. His deft explanation of this issue alongside his compassionate but provoking pages on AIDs and sexuality warrants buying the book alone. His stinging criticism of Western Christianity's obsession with servanthood should be compulsory reading.

Never has so much wisdom been squeezed into so few pages.

Truth and Lies
Jillian Edelstein

On page 106 of this harrowing book there is an astonishing picture. Five moustached white men, pose as if for a family portrait, belying the fact that they are some of the most feared men in South Africa. Security policemen and perpetrators of dreadful apartheid atrocities, they testified at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The following pages include a photo of the Tshidiso Motasi who survived the murder of his parents by the above men. Exactly what happened is disputed by all.

Truth and Lies combines a photographic essay with a diary of the esteemed Commission alongside actual submissions from victims and oppressors alike. This contradiction of truth provides a vexing embodiment of the complexity of South Africa's past.

The Country of My Skull
Antje Krog

Don't read this unless you are prepared to be disturbed by humanity's inhumanity. Krog, a writer, poet and journalist, attended nearly all the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings over a period of three years. (Those she missed were due to a breakdown caused by the trauma of her work.)

The Country of My Skull not only gives a horrific insight into the brutalities that occurred in South Africa on behalf of all sides but most interestingly captures the Afrikaners' journey.

Despite being an anti apartheid campaigner, as an Afrikaner, Krog struggles to come to terms with her complicity in her community's actions. Could she have done more? How can she relate to her people as she begins to understand quite what they were capable of?

An exceptional exploration of how each of us is tarnished by the guilt of others.

Uniting a Divided City
Jo Beall, Owen Crankshaw, Susan Parnell

Drive through Johannesburg and you will quickly become aware that extreme wealth exists alongside utter poverty. Sandton City Centre and Rosebank villas tower over the shacks of Alexandra.

Even on the road there is such incongruity. The desperation of kerbside hawkers is striking as they plead with drivers of Mercedes, Landrovers and Audis to buy their wares.

Johannesburg is a microcosm of the most important issue facing the world today, according to Beall and co; the ever widening gap between rich and poor.

The city's fiscal policies, restructuring and community involvement are analysed with the hope that the concerted efforts of the great city, might provide a blueprint for breaching the chasm.

Whilst somewhat academic, it is a rare book that actually provides grounded hope for a fair world.

Life Soweto Style
M Lanning, N Roake, G Horning

Soweto's reputation is often sullied by high crime and poverty. Part travelogue, part coffee table volume, part cook book, Life Soweto Style demythologises South Africa's most famous township.

Full-page photos are evocative of the brash, vibrant, entrepreneurial soul that has sat alongside struggle and hope in Soweto over the years. Whilst it catalogues the juxtaposition of the millionaires' houses next to the shacks, the message is clear; you don't have to be wealthy to be rich in spirit.

A beautiful portrayal of a much maligned township.

Love Child
Gcina Mhlophe

One of South Africa's most loved writers has given us a vibrant collection of poems, stories and observations of the Rainbow Nation.

The simplicity of Sometimes when it Rains, seduces you with images of the natural environment. This is before confronting you with the stark reality of poverty and imprisonment that is only too familiar to many South Africans.

We are at War brilliantly challenges what Mhlophe sees as the war on women. In a country where more women are raped than in anywhere else in the world, we are asked "can there be hope when there is so much violence?"

Steering by the Stars
Mamphele Ramphele
Available from

The Managing Director of the World Bank with responsibilities for Human Development has spent much time living and working in rural South Africa. After the elections in 1994, she decided to find out what the reality was for children in urban post apartheid South Africa.

The result is a heart-rending batch of stories of 16 teenagers growing up in the New Crossroads, Cape Town. These include Bulelwa, a young woman determined to succeed in her education and career whilst avoiding the destructive patterns of drugs and violence around her.

Not all of her biographies are so positive however. There are other stories of refusal of education due to lack of hope and shootings amongst the overwhelming fights for survival.

A gripping exposé of the harsher side of South Africa.

Long Walk to Freedom
Nelson Mandela

Possibly one of the most read political autobiographies in the world and with good reason. Talk to any South African and they will tell you that the miraculous transition to democracy in 1994 is largely down to one man - Nelson Mandela.

The Long Walk to Freedom details Madiba's childhood, the influence of the Methodist church on his life and then of course the beginning of the struggle for his country's freedom.

His explanation of his decision to take up arms against the state is stunning as is the grace displayed by the Nobel Prize winner throughout his struggle for liberation.

An inspirational testimony of the power of human perseverance.

Cry the Beloved Country
Alan Paton

Rev Kumalo lives in a traditional rural Zulu community. Like so many fellow countrymen and women, his family have migrated to the big city, in this case Johannesburg. In a metaphor for the challenge for South Africa, Kumalo decides to find his kin with the aim of reconciliation and everybody living together happily ever after.

Does he succeed? Well that would be telling but you can be assured of heartbreak, racial tension, sacrifice and redemption along the way.

Almost biblical prose illuminates the South Africa of 1948 - just before apartheid became official. It is surprisingly reminiscent of the current struggles and hopes of the country. Read it and weep.

Beyond the Miracle
Allistair Sparks

Aside from having to reconcile the different races, the new government in 1994 was faced with the mammoth task of developing a successful country that had previously only catered for the white minority.

It has not been an easy journey and with bad news eclipsing the successes of the country we are left with a question: Is the Rainbow Nation going to become the archetype of hope in a broken world or will it fall prey to suspicion, recrimination and general disaster?

With care and effort South Africa can be a success argues Sparks as he recounts the struggle to end apartheid and to develop a model country. Although full of personal stories, this is an authoritative history book that is recommended by blacks and whites alike.

Energetic and chatty it is the reading equivalent of learning history from your wise uncle in the pub.

Back to South Africa index