11 Best South African Authors Of All Time

If you want to explore a new area of literature, consider picking up a few works by South African authors. Take a look at some of the best below!

South Africa is a country that has seen a lot. From European colonial rule to indigenous cultures and even apartheid, it is evident that a South African writer would have a lot to talk about. That is precisely why lots of South African writers have been celebrated worldwide.

While one of the languages spoken in South Africa is English, it is evident that South African literature is its genre with its unique style and flavor based on the evolution of South African society.

Popular South African Authors

Best South African Authors

Regardless of whether you are interested in South African poetry, the activism of Nelson Mandela (and his Nobel Prize), or works in Afrikaans, take a look at some of the best South African authors below.

1. Zakes Mda

Zakes Mda is a unique writer, but he is still just as celebrated as any other writer in South African history. Because of the apartheid of South Africa, people of European and African descent look at the country in very different lights. That is precisely what shines through in the work of Mda.

He was born in South Africa but grew up in Lesotho before moving to America and returning to South Africa. Much of his work deals with the development of South Africa following the end of colonial rule. He often felt like an outsider in his native country, which stands out in his work.

While his work usually has a humorous slant, he still has a comedic writing style. If you want to explore the works of Zakes Mda, consider reading The Heart of Redness.

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The Heart of Redness: A Novel
  • Mda, Zakes (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 08/01/2003 (Publication Date) - Picador (Publisher)

2. J. M. Coetzee

J. M. Coetzee in Warsaw (2006)
This image was found on Wikipedia and is used with permission under the Creative Commons License, CC BY SA 2.5.

J. M. Coetze won the Nobel Prize in 2003 and is widely recognized as one of the greatest South African writers of all time. He is not afraid to take on issues that have a lot of political slant to them, and he is unabashed in calling out issues he sees in his native South Africa. Many of his works focus on symbols, as his characters portray various aspects of South African society that he sees daily.

One of his most famous works is Waiting for the Barbarians, which paints a picture of a country devoid of any issues Coetzee calls out in his other works. This powerful narrative has made him one of the most celebrated writers in the history of South Africa. If you want to explore the works of Coetzee for yourself, start with Waiting for the Barbarians.

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Waiting for the Barbarians: A Novel
  • J.M. Coetzee (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 192 Pages - 04/29/1982 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

3. Nadine Gordimer

Gordimer at the Göteborg Book Fair, 2010
This image was found on Wikipedia and is used with permission under the Creative Commons License, CC BY SA 3.0.

Nadine Gordimer is another celebrated writer from South Africa, and she won the Nobel Prize in 1991. She campaigned hard against apartheid during her life, a common theme in her work. Throughout the apartheid period in South Africa, several of her books were banned because of her staunch opposition to the racist policies. Activism is evident in her work, and she was not afraid of tackling it.

While she is one of the most celebrated writers of the 20th century, much of her writing style draws from some of the classical writers of the 19th century. Even though apartheid ended in South Africa years ago, it is still helpful to read her books to see what life was like for those who lived in South Africa during the apartheid era. If you want to check out the works of Nadine Gordimer for yourself, consider exploring July’s People.

July's People
  • Penguin Books
  • Gordimer, Nadine (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 176 Pages - 07/29/1982 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

4. Andre Brink

Brink in Lyon, 2007
This image was found on Wikipedia and is used with permission under the Creative Commons License, CC BY SA 3.0.

Andre Brink wrote on South African society’s current state of affairs. While Nelson Mandela is widely celebrated as one of the most incredible activists of all time, many did not approve of the work of his successors at the ANC, and Brink is one of those people.

Brink came to prominence during the 1960s, and many of his works reflect that era. He frequently talks about sexual and religious freedom, which the authorities did not approve of.

One of his first works, Kennis van, die Aand, remains one of his most famous. It was also one of the most controversial, as it was one of the first books to be banned under apartheid, but it was published in Afrikaans. As a result, he began writing in English, becoming more popular.

Kennis van die aand
  • Human & Rosseau (Publisher)

5. Damon Galgut

Galgut in 2013
This image was found on Wikipedia and is used with permission under the Creative Commons License, CC BY SA 3.0.

Damon Galgut had a traumatic childhood. He needed to deal with the social issues in modern South Africa, but he was also diagnosed with cancer at the age of six. As a result, many of his works focus on traumatic experiences.

One of his most famous books is titled The Good Doctor. It was one of his later works, but it received nearly universally positive feedback. This book explores the stalemate in the political system of South Africa using a hospital word as a vehicle for this powerful symbolism. His skill with language is impressive, and it has made him one of the most well-respected writers in the history of South Africa. 

The Good Doctor: A Novel
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Galgut, Damon (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages - 09/07/2004 (Publication Date) - Grove Press (Publisher)

6. Njabulo Ndebele

Njabulo Ndebele is another celebrated writer from South Africa. He won the most prestigious literary award in South Africa, the Noma Award, in 1984.

Many of his works focus on the evolution of South Africa following the end of apartheid. During this time, the country was trying to develop a new identity, which his characters deal with in his books. He frequently focuses on ordinary people trying to make it in Cape Town or Johannesburg, despite the immense poverty in these towns during those times.

His books focus on hypocrisy, reconciliation, and coping following the end of apartheid. If you would like to explore the works of Ndebele for yourself, you should start with The Cry of Winnie Mandela.

7. Breyten Breytenbach

Breytenbach at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival.
This image was found on Wikipedia and is used with permission under the Creative Commons License, CC BY SA 3.0.

Breyten Breytenbach is a South African writer who found himself personally sucked into the trials of apartheid. He is white, but he entered into a mixed-race marriage, and he found himself sent to France in exile. While there, he founded Okhela, a resistance group that sought to end the racist policies of South Africa. 

As a result, many of his works focus on apartheid directly. He focuses on the privilege of being white in South Africa and what it means for those who are not. In many ways, his works reflect his own experiences.

One of his most famous works is The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist. In this book, he talks about the prison system and what it was like to be incarcerated. He spent seven years in prison following a conviction for high treason.

He wrote books and poetry during his career while dabbling in visual arts. He published his books in Afrikaans and English. 

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The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist
  • Breytenbach, Breyten (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 400 Pages - 09/28/1994 (Publication Date) - Harvest Books (Publisher)

8. Herman Charles Bosman

This image was found on Wikipedia and is part of the public domain

Even though Herman Charles Bosman lived a relatively short life, he is still ranked among some of the greatest South African writers in history. He is mainly known as a short story writer, and he developed his style after some of the other great short story writers of the 19th and 20th centuries, including Mark Twain and Edgar Allen Poe. In particular, his use of satire is a reminder of these literary giants.

Many of his works focus on the contradictions in South African society during the early 20th century, which didn’t make sense to many people, including Bosman. He was born in Cape Town to a family of Afrikaners, and his life experiences were defined by the trials and tribulations of this group.

If you would like to learn more about this section of South African society and the life of Bosman, you should explore his short stories for yourself. An excellent place to start would be Mafeking Road and Other Stories. You will see why he has become one of the most well-respected writers of his era.

Mafeking Road
  • Bosman, Herman Charles (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 174 Pages - 12/11/2012 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

9. Deon Meyer

Deon Meyer, South African novelist.
This image was found on Wikipedia and is used with permission under the Creative Commons License, CC BY SA 3.0.

Deon Meyer is a modern South African writer. He writes in Afrikaans, but most of his works have been translated into dozens of languages. Unlike many of the other writers on this list, he doesn’t spend as much of his time focusing on the numerous social issues plaguing South Africa (although they do show up from time to time). Instead, he writes thrillers, and many of his thrillers rank among the best-selling modern titles.

He has won multiple awards for his writing, including the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere and the Prix Mystere de la Critique, which he won back-to-back years in 2003 and 2004. If you want to explore his thrillers for yourself, you should start with Thirteen Hours. This is a beautiful showcase of what he can do with the written word.

Thirteen Hours: A Benny Griessel Novel (Benny Griessel Mysteries)
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Meyer, Deon (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 560 Pages - 09/06/2011 (Publication Date) - Grove Press (Publisher)

10. Bryce Courtenay

Author and ex-creative director, Bryce Courtenay took a seat in Yahoo!'s Big Idea Chair.jpg
This image was found on Wikipedia and is used with permission under the Creative Commons License, CC BY SA 2.0.

Bryce Courtenay was a prolific writer and advertising professional. He was born in the mountains of South Africa and moved to London to study journalism in the 1950s. After he finished school, he went into the advertising industry and made a successful career; however, he also discovered a love of writing.

He used his life experiences to inform his work. He quickly became one of the best-selling South African writers of all time.

One of his most famous works is called The Power of One. The book tells the story of a young South African boy who grew up in the country during the 1930s and 1940s and focuses on what life was like for kids. 

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The Power of One: A Novel
  • Ballantine Books
  • Courtenay, Bryce (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 544 Pages - 09/29/1996 (Publication Date) - Ballantine Books (Publisher)

11. Achmat Dangor

Achmat Dangor, similar to many of the other writers on this list, focused his work on the social injustice in South Africa during his time. He is a novelist and short-story writer.

Dangor was inspired by several other writers who tackled social injustice in other parts of the world, and his unique style of doing so has made him one of the most popular writers in South African history. He is a very straightforward writer who tackled numerous issues in his writing, pushing for change in his native country. 

Two of his most famous works include Bitter Fruit, for which he earned a nomination for the Booker Prize, and Kafka’s Curse.

Kafka's Curse: A Novel
  • Hardcover Book
  • Dangor, Achmat (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 240 Pages - 01/26/1999 (Publication Date) - Pantheon (Publisher)

The Final Word On South African Authors

As you can see, South African authors are skilled at sharing their rich culture with the world.

Further Reading

If you liked this post about the best South African authors, you might be interested in reading about the best Russian authors.

You might also enjoy learning about the best Japanese authors.

FAQs About South African Authors

What Languages Do South African Authors Write In?

isiZulu, isiXhosa, English, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, and Afrikaans are spoken in South Africa.

Where Can I Buy Books By Author African Authors?

Many of these books are available in large bookstores and on Amazon

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