Literature and the History of Apartheid

Some of us may or may not be familiar with the term apartheid, its meaning, significance and history. So, we'll touch on history here for a little bit. Apatheid is an Afrikaans term, which means 'separation/apartness', and it was used to legalize the system of racial oppression in South Africa. Apartheid was a political movement that implemented an administration of segregation and dissociation of blacks and whites. This policy was implemented in 1948 when the National party – a party formed by the Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch traders and refugees from Europe – won the general election. 

This policy affected every level and every area of living, and the whites were considered the superior over every other non-white race. Apartheid brought about the death and brutal punishments of thousands of blacks all over South Africa. The black Africans were restricted to rural areas where life and making a living was obviously tougher and more difficult, while the whites had the more abundant land and easier lifestyle. The black community grew restless and slowly began to fight back, and movements against apartheid (however discreet they were at first) were established. 

South Africans were able to use two major weapons to bring solace to their hearts and empower themselves - through words (literature), and through song (singing). One of literary fiction's main goals is to give light to social, economic, political and/or psychological issues (among others), bringing awareness of these issues to us readers, and expanding on our knowledge. Literature was thus one of the tools that were used to effectively portray the brutality of the system, and to fight it as best it could be fought.

Through novels by South African writers like Lewis NkosiZakes MdaNjabulo NdebeleAthol Fugard and Nadine Gordimer, we are able to experience the sting of apartheid and the sheer horror of what the black South Africans went through under this rule for years. Although majority of these works were banned from being distributed in the country during the apartheid regime, these writings helped to motivate the movement towards freedom, which eventually came in 1990, followed by the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as South Africa's new president. 

One particular white South African who is known for her deeply activist role against apartheid is Nadine Gordimer. She was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1991. She was a hardcore activist, choosing to remain in South Africa during the regime when most of the whites were leaving to avoid being prosecuted due to their opposition to the hideous system. She chose to stay so she could fight with the blacks, fight for freedom and equality, and be the voice for the black Africans whose voices had been brutally silenced by the system. 

Top South African Writers

Lewis Nkosi's works include Mating Birds, Underground People, and Mandela's Ego

Njabulo Ndebele's novels include Fools and Other Stories, Death of a Son and Sarah, Rings, and I

Nadine Gordimer's novels include The Lying Days, A Sport of Nature, The Pickup, and No Time Like the Present (2012)

Zakes Mda's novels include: She Plays with the DarknessWays of Dying, and The Heart of Redness.

Ivan Vladislavic's works include The Folly, and The Restless Supermarket (2001).

K Sello Duiker's novels include Thirteen Cents, and The Quiet Violence of Dreams (2001). Sadly, Duiker had a nervous breakdown and committed suicide before his 3rd novel was published.

Athol Fugard's plays include "Master Harold"...and the Boys, The Cell and Coming Home

If you'd like to learn more about the Apatheid era, you can visit any of the pages below:

For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
--- Nelson Mandela

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