Understanding Apartheid

South African Literature

News can be confusing, especially with so many catastrophes dotting the globe every day. So, my complete lack of knowledge on apartheid South Africa had me believing I’d never be able to fully understand the history, as I was already so far behind in all the news media about it.

Yet, after reading just a few books, I learned more than I could have ever learned from a newspaper. These books offered me personal and complex insight into the apartheid world and the post-apartheid struggles.

Apartheid was the reign of Afrikaners who ruled over South Africa, instilling white supremacy and restricting black African’s rights. The African National Congress fought back against this movement and won the 1994 election. This was the election that put Nelson Mandela in the presidency. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed to host hearings regarding crimes against human rights that were committed during apartheid, offering amnesty to some perpetrators

The books I read offer perspectives ranging from that of wealthy white Afrikaners to poverty stricken black Africans, all who faced difficulty in facing their nation’s past and present. The narratives of these characters offered a more realistic depiction of apartheid by not focusing on just historical facts. The emotional and immeasurable consequences of apartheid gained much attention and offered me a much better understanding of South African’s traumas.

Picking out my few favorites, I offer my Sweet Lemon readers five books that really reveal the apartheid past and its racial, social, and economic remains that haunt South Africans.

1.      Mother to Mother: With a black African mother writing to a white American mother whose daughter was viciously killed after entering her primarily black township, the novel emphasizes the extremity of violence that defined South African townships and the young generation.

2.      Age of Iron: Age of Iron really mixes it up, offering insight into the life of a single, elderly white woman who struggles to understand apartheid and her place in it. This book really highlights the fictitious positivity that Afrikaners were sold during apartheid, while offering no excuse for this ignorance.

3.      Skinner’s Drift: As one of my new favorite books, it offers a contrast of a disconnected white family with the struggle their family of servants face in the fading hope for freedom and change. Placed in a farm and a rural community, this story offers a unique perspective in how every aspect of South Africa was touched by the trauma and discusses the individual struggles that made up apartheid.

4.      Dog Eat Dog: As the most modern tale of the post-apartheid world, this book offers a narrative of a young black college boy. This tale offers realistic and extremely honest portrayals about the problems that still exist in South Africa to this day, ranging from social to economic.

5.      Bitter Fruit: This book features the trauma instilled amongst a black family and highlights the individual complexities faced far after the end of apartheid. Lydia was raped by a white Afrikaner policeman who was using the rape as a political ploy against her husband, Silas who was a member of the African National Congress. The book offers insight into how the Truth and Reconciliation Committee has trouble addressing the emotional issues behind apartheid crimes.


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