Annotated list of books on (South) Africa I read last year

I mentioned in the New Year’s post that I’ve been reading up on (South) Africa to obtain some more background information than provided in the online and printed newspapers and monthlies (such as The Africa Report, with, e.g., its article on Google in Africa). The remainder of this post is an annotated list of fiction and non-fiction books, collections, and pamphlets on Africa I read in 2011, which to quite an extent had to do with availability in the nearby bookshops. Yes, I’m talking about hardcopies. Looking them up online for this post, some are out of print, and less than half are available as eBook, Kindle edition, etc. The links are to the online bookstore, when available, but several are available also internationally through booksellers such as Amazon.

Suggestions for “must reads” that can help me to understand this complex country and continent are welcome!


Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (1994, Abacus). Highly recommendable to anyone interested in the struggle and appalling situations and injustices under the Apartheid regime. It easily readable, and makes a man out of the myth. It is a personal account, and not so much an exposé of ideas (cf., e.g., Fidel’s “my life” or “la historia me absolverá”).

Terrific Majesty: the Powers of Shaka Zulu and the Limits of Historical Invention by Carolyn Hamilton (1998, Harvard University Press). After the first chapter of academese, the remaining chapters provide a highly readable and fascinating picture of the life of King Shaka as well as the agendas of the multiple narrators of those times, somewhat alike a two-layered ‘soap opera’. 

The Racist’s Guide to the People in South Africa by Simon Kilpatrick (2010, Two Dogs). Illustrates well the new term I learned here, “equal opportunity offender”, although he does it in a satirical, witty, way. For the record, I can confirm Kilpatrick’s description of the Dutch [described in the same paragraph as the Germans]: yes, I do commit the cardinal sin of wearing socks in sandals, eat liquorice and lots of cheese, don’t leave a tip if the service or food is crappy, and as a child I went many times on summer holidays in France bringing most of our food from the Netherlands (indeed, that was cheaper). But, to some extent, I still wonder how accurate and/or exaggerated some of the descriptions of the other groups are. 

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for our Time by Jeffrey D. Sachs (2005, Penguin Books). Appeared to be written for people who politically lean to the right to convince them to move toward a centrist position, for Sachs’ ego as do-good-er within a capitalist framework, and serves as an appeal to the baby boomers to let go of the generational egoism so as to come off less bad (or a bit better) in history. 

Persons in Community: African Ethics in Global Culture, edited by Ronald Nicholson (2008, UKZN Press). Various essays of varying quality. Positive: Ubuntu from different perspectives and in different contexts. One can safely skip the annoying writings with Christian religious stuff, which has done more harm than good, notwithstanding the attempts at revisionary history writing.

African Renaissance (read in part), edited by Malegapuru William Makgoba (1999, Mafube Publishing). A collection of essays written in 1999 on problems and looking forward on what to do to realise a better future for South Africa and the continent. I think this will become a useful document for assessing if, and if yes how, the hopes and ideas have been realized over time. As an aside, it introduced me to the term “potted plants in green houses” that refers to certain academics in South Africa (note: they can be found in other countries as well, albeit due to different reasons).

Currently reading: Africa’s Peacemaker? Lessons from South African Conflict Mediation (currently reading), edited by Kurt Shillinger (2009, Fanele). The collection contains analyses of several conflicts in Africa, and lessons learnt of South African efforts in conflict mediation. From the parts I have read, this would have been useful to read for one of the courses of the MA in Peace & development I did a while ago.

Lined up to read: Chabal’s Africa: the Politics of Suffering and Smiling (2009, Zed Books).


The following three pamphlets are from New Frank Talk, and give plenty of food for thought—not just to me, but if you do a search on it, you’ll see various sources, including news articles, discussing the topics.

Black Colonialists: the root of the trouble with Africa by Chinweizu. On post-colonial time, loathing Blacks in government who behave like their former colonialist masters.

Blacks can’t be racist by Andile Mngxitama. The thesis is that if you are not in a position of power, you cannot be racist, as one cannot act upon one’s prejudices about certain identified groups of people (if one has them); hence: ‘race’-based prejudice + power + acting upon it = racist. (Most) Blacks are not in a position of power, hence, cannot be racist, or so goes the argument in a nutshell. 

The white revolutionary as a missionary? Contemporary travels and researches in Caffraria by Heinrich Böhmke. On the ‘well-meaning left’ going to Africa to ‘help the poor and do good’ as a modern-day version of the colonialist-missionary with its negative influences.


The Angina Monologues by Rosamund Kendal (2010, Jacana Media). One of those books you just have to finish reading quickly to see how events unfold with the characters. It describes the experiences of three South African interns in a remote hospital in South Africa and how they come to grips with that new situation and their heritage with the different situations and mores they each grew up with.

The Master’s Ruse by Patricia Schonstein (2008, African Sun Press). The author has been so friendly to me, but it was not easy finishing reading the book. Perhaps it is a good book, attested by the freedom of the reader to read in it what fits the reader (and that wasn’t pretty). 

Black Diamond by Zakes Mda (2009, Penguin Books). Criticism of recent developments in South Africa is woven into the storyline. It also claims to insert all sorts of clichés, which is harder for me to assess. Disappointing is the portrayal of most of the female story characters who all happen to have all sorts of negative character traits and behaviours, with the male lead—having fought in the struggle, but not getting his share of the money and fame to become a ‘Black Diamond’—the good guy. It reads as if it were a Bouquet-book but then for a male readership.

Can he be the one? By Lauri Kubuitsile (2010, Sapphire press). Now this is a real Bouquet-book (called Sapphire here), but then with a cast of successful Black South Africans.


Regarding possible suggestions, I have read several fiction and non-fiction books over the years, so possible glaring omissions from the aforementioned list may have been covered already—or: if you consider reading something about (South) Africa and none of the above piqued your interest, then maybe one or more of these ones do. Some of those books are, in alphabetical order by surname of author:

I write what I like by Steve Biko (1987, Heinemann). A must read. Writings from the ‘70s, on the Black Consciousness Movement. Introduced me to the term “Whitey” and (problems with) the “White liberal left”.

Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee (2004, Vintage).

Lettera ad un consumatore del nord by centro nuovo modello di svilluppo.

Concerning violence by Frantz Fanon (part of Wretched of the earth, which, when you search a bit, is available in whole as a free pdf download). Highly recommendable.

Hacia el reino del silencio by Miguel Díaz Nápoles (2008, Pablo de la Torriente, Editorial). On Cuban doctors in Ghana.

The challenge for Africa by Wangari Maathai (2010, Arrow Books). Highly recommendable. Interesting analyses of problems, ideas and successes for self-empowerment. If you have any difficulty choosing between this and Sachs’ book, take this one.

I am an African by Ngila Michael Muendane (2006, Soultalk CC). About decolonization of the mind. A must read.

How man can die better: the life of Robert Sobukwe by Benjamin Pogrund (version of 2006, Jonathan Ball Publishers). Highly recommendable to anyone interested in the struggle and appalling situations and injustices under the Apartheid regime; Sobukwe was with the PAC.

Inside rebellion: the politics of insurgent violence by Jeremy M. Weinstein (2007, Cambridge University Press). Highly recommendable, if you’re into this topic.

As mentioned, if you have any good suggestions, please leave them in the comments or email me off-line, lest I keep on picking books fairly randomly and hoping it is worthwhile the price and reading time.  But maybe I should venture more often into the real world, instead of ‘reading this one more book to be better prepared for it’.


11 responses to “Annotated list of books on (South) Africa I read last year

  1. Pingback: Books online to read free » Blog Archive » Annotated list of books on (South) Africa I read last year « Keet blog

  2. Thus far, I’ve received reading suggestions by email/offline from two readers.

    The first two are one the same themes as the New Frank talk pamphlets on why blacks can’t be racist and black colonialist: Alejo Carpentier’s El reindo de este mundo (English summary of The kingdom of this world). Its setting is in the Caribbean (mainly Haiti, some Cuba), but the thematic the same. The second one is Nadine Gordimer‘s World of strangers (out of print and I could not find it online), and basically her whole oeuvre.

    The second one is The Superafrikaners–inside the Afrikaner Broederbond by Ivor Wilkins and Hans Strydom (1978), detailing the secretive Broederbond organisation who was said to be taking over everything in South Africa in those days; read some reflections on the book.

    • Thanks for the pointer; although, I’m more into peace research books (looking toward preventing war) rather than military analyses (to fight wars less ineffectively).

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