Jock of the Bushveld, by Percy Fitzpatrck
'Jock' is a South African children’s classic from the pioneer days, about a loyal dog. It takes place in the area that would later become The Kruger National Park, where The Jack Bank is also set.
Mhudi, by Sol Plaatje
A historical novel, about blood-thirsty Zulu renegade chief (later the founder of the Matabele nation in Zimbabwe) Mzilikazi, and the land-grabbing white Voortrekker pioneers. By one of the pioneers of black South African literature.
My Traitor's Heart, by Rian Malan
A beautiful, disturbing, and Afro-pessimistic story of an Afrikaner reporter who tries to understand his relation to his own country through the lens of nine gruesome and bewildering political murders in the 1980s.
Boyhood, by JM Coetzee
I suppose we had to include at least one Nobel prize winner in our list. Boyhood tells the story of how Coetzee grew up in a poor White area of Oudshoorn—meditative, beautiful, and informative. Also try his novels—my favorite is Life and Times of Michael K.
Mafeking Road, by Herman Charles Bosman
Bosman is a Mark Twain-like writer—a sly and profound humorist. He writes about rural, racist Afrikaners living in the northwest of the country, near the Botswana border.
Story of an African Farm, by Olive Schreiner
Tale detailing the lives of three characters, first as children and then as adults - Waldo, Em and Lyndall - who live on a farm in the Karoo region of South Africa in the nineteenth century. Olive Schreiner’s prose is beautiful—one of the great classics of South African literature.
Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela and Richard Stengel
These are Mandela's famous prison diaries that were smuggled off Robben Island by friends and family. A fascinating and illuminating view behind the scenes of South African history.
Burger’s Daughter, by Nadine Gordimer
I think this is the greatest novel by South Africa’s Nobel Prize-winning author. Rosa Burger grew up in a home under constant surveillance by the South African government. This novel spins between past and present, between Rosa’s thoughts and her actions in the anti-apartheid movement —brilliant.
Ways of Dying, by Zakes Mda
Toloki is a professional mourner, making a meager living by attending funerals in the violent city where he lives. Funny and beautiful, by one of South Africa’s greatest living writers.
Nervous Conditions, by Tsitsi Dangarembga
OK, this book is Zimbabwean, but I can’t think off the top of my head of any other novel that so powerfully dramatizes the “dual oppression” of black African women, both as females and as indigenous people on the continent.
David Goldblatt Photographs
I actually keep this book in my study, where I look at it from time to time to remember exactly what it was like to grow up under apartheid. Goldblatt, arguably South Africa’s greatest documentary photographer, captures so much that is evocative about the South Africa in these pictures: black workers, exhausted, asleep on a bus; shacks and huts; a school prefect, wearing a jacket just like the one I once did, standing outside the same chain store, Truworths, where my mother took us to buy our clothes.
A World Apart
Absolutely beautiful film, one of my favorites, a thinly fictionalized evocation of the childhood of Shawn Slovo, the daughter of Joe Slovo and Ruth First—two of South Africa’s most famous revolutionary intellectuals.
Richard Attenborough directs this one, about the relationship between Black Consciousness activist Steven Biko and liberal newspaper editor Donald Woods. When I was a teenager this movie was generally banned in South Africa, but I got to see a special “limited audience” screening at a Johannesburg arthouse. Back in the day, I thought this film was amazing.
Cry, the Beloved Country
The film adaptation of Alan Paton’s classic novel about a rural KwaZulu preacher who travels to Johannesburg to help his sick sister.
A Dry White Season
Well, I sometimes get impatient with the typical white South African narrative of thinking everything under apartheid was fine, until one day the maid’s family gets arrested and tortured and they realize they live in a semi-fascist police state. But this film is stunning.
A brilliant and moving tale of a gangster—yes, there are a lot of them in South African cinema—who gets pulled into the anti-apartheid struggle.
A Walk in the Night
I don’t know this one, except by reputation, so I am borrowing the text from California Newsreel: A Walk in the Night is one of the first films from a new generation of talented young black South African filmmakers who have become active since the overthrow of apartheid in 1994. Mickey Madoda Dube's debut feature adapts Alex La Guma's celebrated 1962 novella of the same name into a fast-paced crime thriller set in present day Johannesburg. The fact that this story could be so convincingly updated to the present indicates how little racial power dynamics in South Africa have changed. The fact that this program was produced and broadcast by the government owned South African Broadcasting Corporation shows how much they have. http://newsreel.org/nav/title.asp?tc=CN0102
Whoopie Golberg stars in this popular musical about the Soweto schoolkids who protested in Soweto in 1976. Fun and educational!
Tsotsi is the beautiful story of a Soweto gangster who steals a car only to find it has a baby in it. I rarely cry in movies, and I usually hate.