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Become the Expert: South Africa

It’s week three of Non-Fiction November! This week’s prompt is hosted by Katie @ DoingDewey and is Be the Expert / Ask the Expert / Become the Expert. There are three ways this prompt can be approached: You can Be the Expert by recommending three books you’ve read on a specific topic; you can put a call out, so Ask the Expert, for recommendations for books on a topic; or you can attempt to Become the Expert by creating a TBR for a topic you want to learn more about.

I’ve gone with the latter, with my topic of choice being South Africa, particularly apartheid. On Saturday, I took a trip to Somerset House where there’s currently an exhibition of South African artist Mary Sibande‘s work. The exhibition, called I Came Apart at the Seams, challenges stereotypes of black women in South Africa, today and during apartheid. Her work is visually stunning and I’d highly recommend visiting if you’re in London in the next couple of months.

Mary Sibande, A Terrible Beauty Is Born, 2019

I’ve heard a lot of stories about South Africa. A previous boss of mine grew up there in the 60s and 70s and one of my close friends spent her whole childhood there, moving to the UK some eight years ago. However, despite hearing them talk a lot about their home country, what it was like to grow up there and what it is like to visit now, I still feel like I know very little about South Africa, especially its history with apartheid. After seeing Mary Sibande’s exhibition, I knew I had to use this week’s prompt to find some books that could help me understand South Africa’s history better, and learn about a non-white perspective of the country’s past.

A History of South Africa By Leonard Monteath Thompson

First, I want a solid overview of South Africa’s history, so I’ve chosen Leonard Thompson’s A History of South Africa. This was first published in 1990 and, originally, covered the history of the country from its first human habitation to the end of the 20th century. It’s since been updated and is now on its fourth edition, which includes new chapters covering the terms of Presidents Mandela and Mbeki. The blurb specifically points out that it focuses on the experiences of the country’s black inhabitants, so this is really exactly what I’m looking for.

Second, I wanted to get a more personal account of the country’s history, and I don’t think any list of South African literature would be complete without mentioning Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. At over 700 pages, Long Walk to Freedom isn’t exactly a quick read, but as Mandela is such an enormous part of South Africa’s history, I think it’s important for me to understand his story.

My third pick is another autobiography, this time from comedian and late-night-talk-show host, Trevor Noah. Lou @ RandomBookReviewsWeb actually reviewed this recently and I immediately thought it would be a good read for me. I’ve seen clips of Trevor Noah’s stand up and TV presenting before and always thought his commentary on topics was interesting, succinct, and funny, so I’m looking forward to learning more about his life.

I’ve tried to find a books that will balance the stories I’ve heard from white South Africans in terms of generational experiences, so Mandela for during apartheid and Trevor Noah for post-apartheid. I hoping these, plus the general history from Leonard Thompson’s book, will help me understand South Africa’s past a little better. I’m not sure that I’ll get around to reading these this side of Christmas, but this is definitely a topic I want to know more about so I’ll be reading these in early 2020.

Do you have any other recommendations for me?
What topic would you like to learn more about?

4 thoughts on “Become the Expert: South Africa”

  1. Born a Crime is a fantastic read, and actually the only thing I think I’ve read around South Africa. He explains his experience and the context of apartheid so well though, it’s really excellent and memorable.

  2. Hope you enjoy Born a Crime! I think if you like Trevor Noah you’ll like this. Ruth First’s memoir 117 Days is also a great (but harrowing) read. She was an anti-apartheid activist and it is about her time in prison.

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