South African literature

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South African literature,

literary works written in South Africa or written by South Africans living in other countries. Populated by diverse ethnic and language groups, South Africa has a distinctive literature in many African languages as well as AfrikaansAfrikaans
, member of the West Germanic group of the Germanic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Germanic languages). Although its classification is still disputed, it is generally considered an independent language rather than a dialect or variant of Dutch
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 (a vernacular derived from Dutch) and English.

See also African literatureAfrican literature,
literary works of the African continent. African literature consists of a body of work in different languages and various genres, ranging from oral literature to literature written in colonial languages (French, Portuguese, and English).
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Although Afrikaans had emerged as a distinctive language by the mid-18th cent., Dutch remained the official language in government and was compulsory in the schools. The pressure of nationalism led finally to the legal recognition of Afrikaans in 1925, and it replaced Dutch completely. There soon emerged several authors writing in Afrikaans. Notable among them was C. J. Langenhoven, who wrote novels and poems, translated the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam into Afrikaans, and wrote the words of the national anthem. His efforts led to the compilation of an Afrikaans dictionary.

Other well-known Afrikaans writers were the poets Christian L. Leipoldt, Christiaan M. van der Heever, and Eugene Marais. A. A. Pienaar under the pseudonym Sangiro wrote nature stories. Uys Krige was extremely versatile; his works include novels, short stories, poems, and plays in both Afrikaans and English. Important poets who have written in Afrikaans include W. E. G. Louw and his brother N. P. van Wyk Louw, Adam Small, and Elisabeth Eybers. In the 1960s novelist André Brink, novelist and poet Breyten BreytenbachBreytenbach, Breyten
, 1939–, South African writer, painter, and activist. Although he is from a distinguished Afrikaner family, he soon became a committed opponent of apartheid. He left South Africa in 1960, settling in Paris in 1962.
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, and poet Ingrid Jonker were among the Afrikaans writers who broke with conservative literary norms and wrote critically of apartheidapartheid
[Afrik.,=apartness], system of racial segregation peculiar to the Republic of South Africa, the legal basis of which was largely repealed in 1991–92. History
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. Brink and Breytenbach also wrote in English.

At first the limited local market retarded the development of an indigenous English-language literature. With the growth of the publishing industry, an increasing population, and the spread of education, a vital literary community developed in the mid-20th cent. In addition, many African writers, divorced from their ethnic heritage, began to write in English. One of the best known among the English-language novelists is Olive SchreinerSchreiner, Olive
, pseud. Ralph Iron,
1855–1920, South African author and feminist, b. Wittebergen Reserve, Cape Colony. After several years as a governess, she went to England in 1881, taking with her the manuscript of her famous novel,
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, author of The Story of an African Farm (1883); she is considered the first great South African novelist.

Other important novelists include Sarah G. MillinMillin, Sarah Gertrude (Liebson),
1889–1968, South African writer. The first of her novels about colonial and racial problems in South Africa is Dark River (1920).
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, whose major work is God's Stepchildren (1924); William Plomer, who wrote Turbott Wolfe (1925); Alan PatonPaton, Alan
, 1903–88, South African novelist. A devoted leader in the struggle to end the oppression of the South African blacks, he served (1935–47) as principal of the Diepkloof Reformatory (near Johannesburg) for delinquent boys, where he instituted many reforms.
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, whose novel Cry, the Beloved Country (1948) was widely acclaimed in America; and Elizabeth C. Webster, who won an English prize for Ceremony of Innocence (1949). Roy CampbellCampbell, Roy,
1901–57, South African poet and satirist. After some time in England and France Campbell returned to South Africa to edit Voorslag [Whiplash], a satirical magazine, publishing works such as The Flaming Terrapin (1924) and The Georgiad
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 is known as a South African poet, although he lived in England after 1926. Besides numerous other works, Stuart Cloete wrote Turning Wheels (1939), a story of the Great Trek, which was made into a film in the United States. Other internationally known works include H. V. Morton's In Search of South Africa (1948) and Episode in the Transvaal (1955) by Harry Bloom, who also wrote the book for the first all-African opera, King Kong (1958).

In the 1950s and 60s the magazine Drum was an important voice for African writers such as Lewis Nkosi and Ezekiel MphahleleMphahlele, Es'kia
(Ezekiel Es'kia Mphahlele) , 1919–2008, South African writer, grad. Univ. of South Africa (M.A., 1956). He began his career as a writer for Drum magazine after World War II and he published his first stories, Man Must Live, in 1947.
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. Mphahlele wrote Down Second Avenue (1959), an autobiographical account of life in one of Johannesburg's African townships, and Voices in the Whirlwind (1972), a collection of essays about South Africa. Other writers who gained prominence in the 1950s and 60s include Jack Cope, Nadine GordimerGordimer, Nadine
, 1923–2014, South African writer, b. Springs. A member of the African National Congress, Gordimer fought apartheid in her political life and in her writings, which often combine the political and personal.
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, Bessie HeadHead, Bessie,
1937–86, South African writer. Born in South Africa to a white mother and black father, she was placed in foster homes and orphanages as a child. After 1964, she lived in exile in Botswana.
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, Dan Jacobson, Peter AbrahamsAbrahams, Peter,
1919–2017, South African novelist and journalist, b. Peter Henry Abrahams Deras. Though he lived mostly in exile, he exposed the injustices of the apartheid system and the politics of race in his native land in his works.
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, Alex La Guma, Sonya Rollnick, Laurens Van Der Post, David Lytton, and Athol FugardFugard, Athol
(Athol Harold Lanigan Fugard) , 1932–, South African playwright, actor, and director. In 1965 he became director of the Serpent Players in Port Elizabeth; in 1972 he was a founder of Cape Town's Space Experimental Theatre.
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. Many of these writers deal with the conditions of apartheid in South Africa. In the 1970s and 80s writers such as Miriam TlaliTlali, Miriam
, 1933–, South African novelist, b. Johannesburg. One of the first to write about Soweto, Tlali is known for her semiautobiographical novel Muriel at Metropolitan (1975; later published under its original title, Between Two Worlds
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, Dennis BrutusBrutus, Dennis Vincent,
1924–2009, South African poet, b. Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe). Brutus grew up in South Africa and received (1947) his B.A. from the Univ. of Fort Hare in Alice.
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, and J. M. CoetzeeCoetzee, J. M.
(John Maxwell Coetzee) , 1940–, South African novelist, b. John Michael Coetzee. Educated at the Univ. of Cape Town (M.A. 1963) and the Univ. of Texas (Ph.D.
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 gained recognition for their eloquent protests of their racially segregated society.


See South African Writing Today, ed. by N. Gordimer and L. Abrahams (1967); S. Gray, South African Literature (1979); U. A. Barnett, A Vision of Order: A Study of Black South African Literature in English, 1914–1980 (1983).

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