2 15 Books about South Africa to Understand its Complexity

We travelled extensively in South Africa, here we have selected the 15 books about South Africa you should read to understand the problems, the beauty, and the huge diversity.

Colonial times, Mandela, the ANC, the corruption, the amazing wild life, the many cultures and traditions, you’ll definitely find the book you want to read to immerse yourself in one of the most beautiful African Countries we’ve ever visited.

Disclosure: Some of our articles contain affiliate links (as an Amazon affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases).

15 Books about South Africa

books about South Africa

1. Born a Crime

Trevor Noah


The autobiography of Trevor Noah, born during a time when mixed marriages were a crime and, consequentially, his own existence was illegal during apartheid.

It’s the tale of his family, especially focused on the figures of his mother and grandmother, the violence, the happy moments, and the life in the township during the turbulent times after the end of the apartheid regime.

I am not a fan of audio books, but this one is narrated by Trevor Noah himself. A movie featuring Lupita Nyongo as Trevor’s mother is planned.



2. The Bang Bang Club

By Greg Marinovich and João Silva


The “bang bang club” was the nickname given to 4 photographers: Kevin Carter, Greg Marinovich, Ken Oosterbroek, and João Silva. The apartheid regime officially ended in 1990 but many don’t know what happened in the first years after the historical moment.

Supporters of the ANC, IFP and other groups were involved in a real war in the townships, and the four reporters were among the few who ventured there to document what was happening.

Greg Marinovich won the Pulitzer Prize for the famous pictures of the killing of Lindsaye Tshabalala in 1990, while Kevin Carter became known for his picture of a vulture watching a starving child in Sudan in 1993.

The book is intense and absolutely worth reading.



3. The Boer War Paperback

by Thomas Pakenham


A very well written and comprehensive account of the Boer War (1899 – 1902), probably the most humiliating campaign fought by the British in a century. With more than 200 pictures, maps, and illustrations, this is one of the best books about South Africa’s colonial history.

Beautifully written, almost like a novel, this is perfect for non-historians who want to start reading books about a complex history.

If you are interested in the Boer War, this is the book you are looking for.



4. You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town

by Zoë Wicomb


The first book by Zoë Wicomb, written in 1987, is the story of Frieda Shenton, a so-called “coloured” girl taught to emulate whites to succeed in life.

Ten stories in chronological order, linked by a single narrator, Frieda Shenton, sometimes protagonist, sometimes secondary character. The formative years, her departure for high school, her sexual development, university education, farewell to South Africa and her return from England to see friends and relatives again.

The author plays with her autobiography, alternating reality and fiction, in an ironic, mischievous, and detached style that does not prevent the entry of the tragedy, which appears lightning-fast in the final images, to signify the destiny of human existence.



5. Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa

By Martin Meredith


Martin Meredith is a historian and journalist who wrote several books about Africa, focusing on the exploitation of resources.

Meredith’s Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa tells the story of the fight between the Boers and the British for control of those resources, and how these events resulted in the rise of virulent Afrikaner nationalism and the establishment of apartheid.

Southern Africa was a region of little interest, until the world’s richest deposits of diamonds and gold were discovered. A perfect historical account to understand modern South Africa and the many struggles still present.



6. Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree

by Niq Mhlongo


Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree is a collection of 11 short stories by Niq Mhlongo’s.

“If the apricot trees of Soweto could talk, what stories would they tell?” Mhlongo’s collection about his own hometown, told with a satirical tone, is able to capture the meaning of places around us, and the energy produced by those places.

Mhlongo won the Media24 Books Literary Awards for this book.



7. Long Walk to Freedom

By Nelson Mandela


Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand history – and then go out and change it.” – President Barack Obama.  

Nelson Mandela, the symbol of the fight against racial oppression in South Africa, a Nobel Peace Prize and the first President of his country with the ANC, the African National Congress, tells us the story of his amazing life.

The movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom was inspired by this autobiography.



8. The Elephant Whisperer

By Lawrence Anthony


Lawrence Anthony was a South African conservationist working on his Thula Thula game reserve, in Zululand. He was asked to accept a herd of elephants. The purpose was to protect them from the poachers by avoiding their escape.

The matriarch and her baby were shot, leaving the rest of the group very angry and dangerous.

They immediately tried to escape, and here the long magic bond between Lawrence and the elephants began. He and his staff decided to stay with the herd 24/7, to protect them and explain to them the danger that was waiting outside the reserve.

None of them knew exactly what to do or if this attempt was going to pay off. After weeks, finally a breakthrough, the elephants approached Lawrence, acknowledging he was not a threat to them. From that moment, they settled into the reserve.



9. Gangster State

By Pieter-Louis Myburgh


Gangster State, written by investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh, goes deep into the figure of Ace Magashule, a man considered one of South Africa’s most dangerous politicians.

Magashule was the Premier of the Free State from 2009 until 2018, and one of the ANC’s most influential positions. 

Thanks to new documents and exclusive source interviews, Myburgh exposes Magashule’s relationship with the Gupta family, Gangster State  is a very real examination of the ANC’s top leadership in the post Jacob Zuma era.



10. Collective Amnesia

by Koleka Putuma


Koleka Putuma is a South African queer poet and theatre-maker, Collective Amnesia was her greatest success, the book is in its 12th print run and has received global attention, she became the best-selling poet in South African history.

The book is divided into three chapters, Inherited Memory, Buried Memory and Postmemory, a personal diary with a deep connection to political memories. An incredibly powerful book.



11. Khwezi: The Story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo

by Redi Tlhabi


In 2006, Zuma was on trial for the rape of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, better known as Khwezi. In the aftermath of the trial, which saw Zuma acquitted, Khwezi was vilified by his many supporters and forced to take refuge outside of South Africa.

The book is not only an account of the trial, but most importantly, an exposure of the patriarchy and the power relationships that were played.

A reflection on South African society and on ourselves.



12. Cry, the Beloved Country

By Alan Paton


Cry, the Beloved Country is a fundamental read, published in 1948, it was immediately a bestseller.

The story of Stephen Kumalo, a Zulu pastor, and his son, Absalom, set in the white South Africa.



13. Disgrace

By J.M.Coetzee


Disgrace is probably the best book written by J.M. Coetzee, a South African writer and Nobel laureate.

Set in post-apartheid South Africa, the protagonist is a divorced University Professor, David Lurie.

After having an affair with one of his student, he is forced to resign and move back to the countryside. Luire is both the white villain and the victim, and Coetzee is able to capture the complexity of human beings.

Disgrace is a a masterpiece.



14. Promised Land: Exploring South Africa’s Land Conflict

By Karl Kemp


The problems involving the land are, for sure, one of the most important debates in South Africa. Everybody has a strong opinion about that, especially about the possibility of expropriation without compensation.

Karl Kemp travels around South Africa, visiting chiefs, farmers, and the evicted communities, giving us a very real picture of the situation, free of ideological bias.



15. Road tripping South Africa

By Map Studio


The ultimate guide for an unforgettable road trip in South Africa, complete with maps and itineraries.



If you are interested in African Books have a look at:


What are some of the best novels set in Colonial South Africa?

One of the best novel set in colonial South Africa is Cry, the Beloved Country By Alan Paton. It is a fundamental read, published in 1948, it was immediately a bestseller. It is the story of Stephen Kumalo, a Zulu pastor, and his son, Absalom, set in the white South Africa.

Who is the best South African author?

One of the best and most known South African author is J.M.Coetzee. Disgrace is probably the best book written by J.M. Coetzee, a South African Nobel laureate. Set in post-apartheid South Africa, the protagonist is a divorced University Professor, David Lurie. After having an affair with one of his student, he is forced to resign and move back to the countryside. Luire is both the white villain and the victim, and Coetzee is able to capture the complexity of human beings. Disgrace is a a masterpiece.

What are the best books about South African politics?

1. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
2. Gangster State by By Pieter-Louis Myburgh
3. Khwezi: The Story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo
4. Promised Land: Exploring South Africa’s Land Conflict By Karl Kemp

What are some books about South African War?

1. The Bang Bang Club By Greg Marinovich and João Silva
2. The Boer War Paperback by Thomas Pakenham
3. Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa By Martin Meredith

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