Jozi Book Fair Makes Literature accessible to Working People


Open Call to students, readers and the public: Conversations with SA Literature – Deadline to participate 23 July 2018

This year’s 10th Annual Jozi Book Fair Festival takes place from 30August-2September 2018 at Mary Fitzgerald Square, with the theme, Literature and Working People. While the history of the working class and the literature about working people is widely ignored and often unsung, objectively, much of the literature written in SA speaks to the conditions of working people’s lives in under different historical periods, from Segregation to post Apartheid.

To broaden participation in this year’s theme, the JBF provides a select reading list of books by South African (and African) authors that reflect, inform or speak to this year’s theme.

Guide Questions:

What is the story about and who are the characters? What does the story say about the lives of working people?

Who can participate?

We encourage students, readers and the public to join us in specially organised conversations on these books at the Festival. You must read the book before-hand.

Deadline: Please apply to participate in the conversations by sending us a short email by Monday, 23July 2018 and we will include you in the JBF programme.

The book list is divided into three sections:

  1. Literature under Segregation
  2. Literature under Apartheid
  3. Literature under Post Apartheid


# 1:  Literature written during Segregation and Apartheid

Author: Olive Schreiner

Title: Man to Man, or Only Perhaps

Year: 1926

Synopsis: ” The story is about two white women, Rebekah and Bertie, sisters born into the racist and sexist society of mid-nineteenth South Africa. One sister remains in the Cape, marries and has children, the other becomes a kept woman and then a prostitute in London’s East End. But, the novel asks, how far are marriage and prostitution really apart in a world where women are valued mainly for their bodies? From exploring white women’s confinement to domesticity, the novel expands its gaze to include black women and girls, whose presence gradually informs Rebekah’s struggle to re-create herself and educate her children (including her black foster-child) so that they may pursue a more humane and fulfilled destiny than was open to her generation. The new edition of From Man to Man, edited by Dorothy Driver, corrects the editorial and proofreading errors that marred previous editions. It also provides another ending…”


Author: Sol. T. Plaatje

Title: Mhudi

Year: 1930

Synopsis: “A romantic epic set in the first half of the nineteenth century, the main action is unleashed by King Mzilikazi’s extermination campaign against the Barolong in 1832 at Kunana (nowadays Setlagole), and covers the resultant alliance of defeated peoples with Boer frontiersmen in a resistance movement leading to Battlehill (Vegkop, 1836) and the showdown at the Battle of Mosega (17 January 1839). Plaatje’s eponymous heroine is an enduring symbol of the belief in a new day. “


Author: Thomas Mofolo

Title: Chaka

Year: 1931

Synopsis: “Written in Sesotho in 1910, published in 1925, and translated to English in 1931, Mofolo weaves a fantastical tale, based loosely on the life of the great Zulu king Chaka (or Shaka), who lived from 1787 to 1828. I read a later translation, by Daniel Kunene in 1981. While the language of the book took me a bit of work to get through, it wasn’t for lack of action. Chaka has an insatiable thirst for power. Mofolo shows the origin and the price of that thirst.“


Author: Peter Abrahams

Title: Mine Boy

Year: 1946

Synopsis:Mine Boy follows a black miner, Xuma, as he goes through a number of struggles, including introduced disease from Europeans as well as political and social trauma. Xuma moves from his town to Malay camp, a black area of Johannesburg, in search of work at the gold mines. Leah, an illegal beer brewer, gives him a place to live. Xuma is against the racist treatment of black Africans and fights it. Xuma falls in love with Leah’s niece, Eliza, who is assimilationist, and then with Maisy. Xuma becomes a successful miner, working for the supervisor Paddy. One of Leah’s tenants, Johannes, and others, die in a mine accident and Xuma and Paddy lead a strike.”


# 2: Literature written after Apartheid – 1948


Author: Alan Paton

Title: Too Late the Phalarope

Year: 1950

Synopsis: Too Late is “about a white policeman who has an affair with a native girl in South Africa.
After violating his country’s ironclad law governing relationships between the races, a young white South African police lieutenant must struggle alone against the censure of an inflexible society, his family, and himself.“


Author: Nadine Gordimer

Title: The Lying Days

Year: 1953

Synopsis: “”The Lying Days”, tells the story of Helen Shaw, daughter of white middle-class parents in a small gold-mining town in South Africa. As Helen comes of age, so does her awareness grow of the African life around her. Her involvement, as a bohemian student, with young blacks leads her into complex relationships of emotion and action in a culture of dissension.”


Author: Es’kia Mphahlele

Title: Down Second Avenue

Year: 1959

Synopsis: “Es’kia Mphahlele’s Down Second Avenue is an autobiographical book that recounts his experiences of Apartheid in South Africa.  The book  recounts Es’kia’s life story from A – Z – from when he was a young boy living in Marabastad ( in Pretoria) through to when he became an adult and  fled the country to go into exile. Es’kia’s account of life under apartheid is vivid: painting the hardships he experienced even as a young boy living with his grandmother.”


The 1960s – 1970s


Author: Alex la Guma

Title: And A Threefold Cord

Year: 1964

Synopsis: “”A Threefold Cord”, is an exquisitely powerful masterpiece which tells the tragic story of a coloured family of shanty dwellers on the Cape Flats and their daily struggle to survive amidst crushing poverty, violence and the unforgiving Cape winter.

Set against the iniquities of police brutality, township squalor and apartheid decadence, it is a lyrical and compassionate portrait of human misery and defiance.”


Author: Bessie Head

Title: When Clouds Gather

Year: 1968

Synopsis: “When Rain Clouds Gather, by Bessie Head, the protagonist, Makhaya, deals with suffering, trauma and eventual healing, particularly when he arrives in Golema Mmidi. At the same time, the novel deals with problems of tribalism, greed and hate in a postcolonial state. Throughout the novel, Makhaya attempts to resolve these struggles and create a new future for himself.“


Author: James Matthews

Title: Cry Rage

Year: 1972

Synopsis: “Cry Rage, the first anthology of poetry to be banned by the Apartheid state. He wrote then:

Freedom’s child
You have been denied too long
Fill your lungs and cry rage
Step forward and take your rightful place
You’re not going to grow up
Knocking at the back door
For you there will be no travelling
Third class enforced by law
With segregated schooling
And sitting on the floor
The rivers of our land, mountain tops
And the shore
It is yours, you will not be denied anymore
Cry rage – freedom’s child


Author: Modikwe Dikobe

Title: The Marabi Dance

Year: 1973

Synopsis: “Set in the ‘slums’ near Johannesburg, is a novel about the clash between African tribal customs and traditions and modern (20th century) ways of life.
Martha, the heroine of the story, falls in love with a Marabi musician George. Many other girls have already fallen for him. Her family and the neighbours are not keen on this relationship.
Martha’s uncle wants his son to marry her. As with many ‘arranged’ bethrothals, love is not at the primary concern of her uncle.
This short but densely packed novel skilfully explores the competition between ‘tribal’ mores and the stresses of living and working as a ‘black’ person in the racist South African environment of the 20th century.“


Author: Andre Brink

Title: Looking on Darkness (Kennis van die Aand)

Year: 1973

Synopsis: “In 1973 this book was banned by the Apartheid South African Government.
Looking On Darkness tells the story of black actor Joseph Malan as he awaits execution for the murder of his white lover.“


Author: Miriam Tlali

Title: Muriel at Metropolitan

Year: 1975

Synopsis: ““Muriel at Metropolitan” / “Between Two Worlds” was the first literary text that portrayed the degrading conditions under which African women laboured during apartheid. It highlighted how strict influx control into “white” cities hampered black women’s opportunities for employment and fulfilling family lives. “


Author: Sipho Sipamla

Title: The Root is One

Year: 1979

Synopsis: “The daily circumstances in which the author and other black inhabitants in Soweto live is the subject matter.“


Post 1960s-1970s


Author: Luli Callinicos

Title: Gold and Wokers

Year: 1981

Synopsis: “The rise of the gold mining industry changed the course of South African history. This book looks at the formative period of modern South African from the point of view of the working men and women whose labour made the country’s industrial revolution possible.”




Author: Mongane Wally Serote

Title: To Every Birth Its Blood

Year: 1981

Synopsis:To Every Birth Its Blood (1981), Mongane Wally Serote tells the stories of Tsi Molope and Oupa Molope. Tsi looks to his past and wonders, “Where does a river begin to take its journey to the sea?” The world in which Oupa—the son of Mary, Tsi’s sister—lives postdates the Soweto uprising of 1976, a time when resistance to apartheid took hold of a new generation and South Africa witnessed attacks and bombings. Because of their experiences with the police, the Molope family becomes more politicized.“


Author: Mafika Gwala

Title: No More Lullabies

Year: 1982

Synopsis: A collection of black consciousness poems.


Author: Lewis Nkosi

Title: Mating Birds

Year: 1983

Synopsis: “As the narrator tells the story of his childhood in a Zulu household, of his first encounter with the white sunbather and of the incident that resulted in the verdict against him, the reader becomes uncomfortably aware of the ugly political and racial ramifications of the situation. Although Nkosi is a talented writer, this work is to be read more for the strength of its message than for the power of its prose. This is a short, but by no means a small, novel.“


Author: Njabulo Ndebele

Title: Fools & Other Stories

Year: 1983

Synopsis: “Ndebele evokes township life with humor and subtlety, rejecting the image of black South Africans as victims and focusing on the complexity and fierce energy of their lives. “Our literature,” says Ndebele, “ought to seek to move away from an easy preoccupation with demonstrating the obvious existence of oppression. It exists. The task is to explore how and why people can survive under such harsh conditions.”


Author: Don Mattera

Title: Memory is the Weapon

Year: 1987

Synopsis: “Don Mattera’s Memory is the Weapon, read by the author and introduced by actor Sello Maake ka Ncube, weaves together both his personal experiences and political developments.

In telling his personal story, Mattera recaptures the crucial events of the 1950s in Sophiatown, one of the most important decades in the history of black political struggle in South Africa.”


Author: Emma Mashinini

Title: Strikes Have Followed Me All My Life

Year: 1989

Synopsis: In her autobiography Emma Mshinini “describes in compelling detail the life of Emma Mashinini, one of South Africa’s leading trade union organisers and gender-rights activists. From her childhood in Sophiatown to the dark days she spent in detention under apartheid and her lasting contributions to labour organisation in South Africa, Emma’s selfless and courageous story – published for the first time in South Africa – recalls and preserves a vital chapter in our country’s history. “


# 3: Post Apartheid Literature


Author: A.H.M Scholtz

Title: A Place Called Vatmaar

Year: 1995

Synopsis: “A hundred years ago, a small settlement sprang up in the Northern Cape. A rich diversity of people moved in, as the children were born, Vatmaar became a village. A.H.M. Scholtz tells of Oom Chai, who in turn tells of a Vuurmaak, who in turn introduces someone else. Thus a chain of stories is created interlinking the fates of unforgettable characters like Lance-Corporal George Lewis and his Tswana wife, Rush, Sis Bet, Old Chetty, Hendruk, January, Tant Vonnie and her daughters as they recount tales of the Anglo-Boer War, the diamond diggings, court cases and stokvels: the tricksters and the tricked, marriages and funerals, love and betrayal. A Place Called Vatmaar is a panoramic novel: compelling, wise and humane.”


Author: Zakes Mda

Title: Ways of Dying

Year: 1995

Synopsis: “Novelist and playwright Zakes Mda’s Ways of Dying was a big hit in his native South Africa, where it was even adapted into a jazz opera. Toloki is a Professional Mourner, making a meager living by attending funerals in the violent city where he lives. In his ratty suit he adds “”an aura of sorrow and dignity,”” often serving as peacemaker when fights break out. He encounters Noria, a childhood acquaintance whose son has just died, and the two renew their friendship, finding comfort in reminiscing over the harrowing events of their lives. There are shades of the absurd in Mda’s darkly humorous descriptions of the crime, poverty, violence and ethnic unrest that plague the characters in this oddly affecting novel.”


Author: J.M Coetzee

Title: Disgrace

Year: 1999

Synopsis: “The story of David Lurie, a twice divorced, 52-year-old professor of communications and Romantic Poetry at Cape Technical University. Lurie believes he has created a comfortable, if somewhat passionless, life for himself. He lives within his financial and emotional means. Though his position at the university has been reduced, he teaches his classes dutifully; and while age has diminished his attractiveness, weekly visits to a prostitute satisfy his sexual needs. He considers himself happy. But when Lurie seduces one of his students, he sets in motion a chain of events that will shatter his complacency and leave him utterly disgraced.”


Author: Zakes Mda

Title: The Heart of Redness

Year: 2000

Synopsis: “Set in Qolorha, Mda’s novel delineates numerous interwoven familial relationships, so complex that the author includes in the beginning a genealogical chart of the “Descendants of the Headless Ancestor,” Xikixa. The author’s dedication admits to reinventing certain lives of Qolorha and recognizes historian J. B. Peires for his work on the “cattle-killing.”“


Author: Phaswane Mpe

Title: Welcome to Our Hilbrow

Year: 2001

Synopsis: “Hillbrow is a microcosm of the changing South African psyche. This novel links Hillbrow, rural Tiragalong and Oxford, and contains the shattered dreams of youth, sexuality and its unpredictable costs, AIDS, xenophobia, suicide, the omnipotent violence that cuts short the promise of young people, and the Africanist understanding of the life.“


Author: Zakes Mda

Title: The Madonna of Excelsior

Year: 2002

Synopsis: “In 1971, nineteen citizens of Excelsior in South Africa’s white-ruled Free State were charged with breaking apartheid’s Immorality Act, which forbade sex between blacks and whites. Taking this case as raw material for his alchemic imagination, Zakes Mda tells the story of one irrepressible fallen madonna, Niki, and her family, at the heart of the scandal.”


Author: Zukiswa Wanner

Title: The Madams

Year: 2006

Synopsis: “Thandi loves her life. She loves her cute son Hintsa, her witty husband Mandla, her comfortably challenging work with the tourism board, and her best friends Nosizwe and Lauren. But she has to admit – its tough being Superwoman in South Africa today. Try being the perfect traditional wife and African mother at home, the perfect promotable black woman at work, and the perfect foil for her Benetton friends one black and Xhosa, one white and English! Thandi admits defeat and decides she needs that great South African bourgeois accessory: a maid. And since she doesn’t have the heart to boss about a sister in her own home, she decides it must be a white maid. Marita joining the household seems to disrupt the comfortable space Thandi, Siz and Lauren have settled into. The secrets of the three women’s lives are dramatically exposed and they are forced to confront their assumptions about relationships, history and each other.“


Author: Lebo Mashile

Title: In A Ribbon of Rhythm

Year: 2006

Synopsis: “Every generation produces its own share of heroes (and sheroes to quote Maya Angelou), who at times unknowingly elevate us; inspire us; provoke us; challenge us; sensitise as well as influence us. “ And for us, we have Lebo Mashile. “A Ribbon” is her first published work of a collection of poetry, which speaks about the contemporary black experience.


Author: Zakes Mda

Title: Black Diamond

Year: 2009

Synopsis: “Don is moving up in the world; he was a freedom fighter, and now he’s going to be a black diamond. At least, that’s what his girlfriend Tumi thinks. Set in post-Apartheid South Africa, Zakes Mda’s latest novel, Black Diamond, references a nickname for the country’s rising black elite not coal.”


Author: Tshego Monaisa

Title: Three Sisters

Year: 2016

Synopsis: “Three Sisters tells the intricate stories of three women, Millicent, Lesego and Mpho, who exist in parallel universes but are all in abusive relationships. 45 year old Millicent is a housewife who is detached from reality because of the lifestyle that her affluent husband of 25 years, Paul Fletcher has provided for her. This all changes when the money dries up, and the more emasculated Paul feels, the more he becomes abusive to Millicent. Lesego Morapedi is an idealist 23 year old who has just moved to Johannesburg in her first job. She has strong self-belief because of her upbringing by her single mother, Kedibone who owned a shebeen. Her life comes to a crashing halt when her ex- boyfriend, Peter arrives in Joburg. Will she be able to rebuild her life? Mpho is 32 years old and loves Kgotso, but when he kills her will her mother avenge her death? A reflective novel, Three Sisters is a moving tale of hardship, family and survival.“

Next MY CLASS 2018

No Comment

Leave a reply