Southern African literature is recognised across the world due to its historical, cultural and political significance on global scale.
Nations in the southern part of Africa, such as Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, and Botswana, among others, all have shared experiences that writers over the years have captured and retold in their various literary forms.
Narratives from these countries share a common historical background and poets, novelist and critics from the southern part Africa explore various themes from oppression under colonialism, apartheid and the struggle for independence and freedom as well as life in independent Africa.
In this article, I have compiled a list of books from various countries in the region that are most celebrated and most read as well as those that I think best capture the history of their respective countries history and interests.
Bones by Chenjerai Hove
Published in 1988, “Bones” captures farm workers’ personal struggles for freedom against oppression and exploitation on a white man’s farm.
The problems black farmers encounter on Manyepo, the white man’s farm, are a microcosm of the experiences of the Shona people under colonial rule in the then Rhodesia.
The book also tells the story of Nehanda, the great Shona spirit medium who provided inspiration for the revolt against British colonial rule, whom the title of the book is dedicated.
We Need New Names by No Violet Bulawayo
This is a novel by one of Zimbabwe’s new post-colonial wave of writers.
Published in 2013, the book captures the life of a group of young teenagers namely Darling, Chipo, Bastard, and Godknows, living in a shanty town in Zimbabwe.
“We Need New Names” exposes the adventures of childhood, the chaos of unfair democracy, migration to the diaspora and the struggles and stress of cultural shock and more.
Mercilessly written with a touch of humour, joy and childhood innocence “We Need New Names” is a must-read for those who want to understand the true situation in Zimbabwe during the crisis period of the early 2000 to late 2008.
Zimbabwe has the bulk of writers from the region whose names are recognised globally. These writers include Dambudzo Marechera, Charles Mungoshi, Tsitsi Dangarembga, No Violet Bulawayo as well as a bulk of white Rhodesian writers such as Doris Lessing, Peter Godwin, Douglas Rogers and others whose literature tell captivating stories of Zimbabwe from different racial perspectives.
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
“Cry the Beloved Country” (1984) is undoubtingly one of the most celebrated and most read text from South Africa, in the region and in the world.
Written by a white liberal writer while tackling issues of racial segregation advocating for equality on the part of black South Africans, it adds an interesting twist to the story.
“Cry, the Beloved Country” is a social protest literature that criticises the racially motivated social structures that gave birth to apartheid.
A Man Who is Not A Man by Thando Mgqolozana
This a contemporary work which tackles some of South Africa’s most controversial topics of botched traditional circumcision which made headlines in the country for a long period of time.
The book recounts the person trauma of a young Xhosa boy, Lumkile, after an unsuccessful right-of-passage circumcision in the Eastern Cape village in South Africa.
It is an excellent read which depicts the tragedy of deep seated tradition.
Mozambique and Angola
When Bullets Begin to Flower: Poems of Resistance from Angola and Mozambique (1972)
Struggling to break free from the same colonial master-the Portuguese, Mozambique and Angola share the same exactly similar literary writers and concerns.
“When Bullets Begin to Flower”, is a Lusophone war poetry anthology which captures the history of Mozambique and Angola’s subjugation, displacement and alienation as a result of slavery and colonialism.
The bulk of poems from the anthology are written by poets from both countries namely, Angola’s first President Agostinho Neto, Marcelo dos Santos, and Noemia des Sousa, among others.
We Killed Mangy Doy and Other Stories by Luis Bernardo Honwana
The short story collection is a recommended text across Africa in the study of Mozambique’s history of resistance against Portuguese colonial rule. The book was translated from Portuguese to English in 1969.
The book consists of several short stories with the bulk of the short stories told from the perspective of children in capturing the resistance to the Portuguese’s racial and oppressive colonial rule.
Mayombe by Pepetela
Ranked with a 4,2 out of 5 by Good Reads, “Mayombe” is a historical masterpiece which captures the Angolan liberation struggle from the perspective of an active participant.
The novel captures the theme of multiculturalism and unity in Angola.
“Mayombe” gives a fully packed analysis of the war contributing to the demystifying of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), showing that the movement was not made up of idealist, heroic revolutionary supermen.
A History of Namibia: From Beginning to 1990 by Marion Wallace
The book is the perfect handbook for understanding the up-to-date academic research of Namibian history from the mid-18th centuries to present.
The book gives a comprehensive analysis of the decades of wars against South African rule and before that against Germany colonialism.
“A History of Namibia" provides an invaluable introduction and reference source for the past of a country that is often neglected despite its significance in the history of the region.
Namibia suffers the lack of African written literature and the bulk of the available literature is authored by whites.
Literature in English from Zambia: A Biography of Published Works to 1986
The book is a compilation of stories from Zambia by Zambian authors telling the nation’s history from the colonial era till the late 1980s.
According to John Chileshe, the book’s editor, because Zambia has become almost a common place in literary circles, it has not yet produced literature in the same level of international acclaim as neighbouring Zimbabwe. It is erroneously assume that Zambian literature does not exist.
The anthology is therefore a must-read as it tells the history of Zambia from its people’s view and in the same way popularise Zambian literature.