South African literature

South Africa has a rich and diverse literary history, with realism, until relatively recently, dominating works of fiction.

Fiction has been written in all of South Africa’s 11 official languages – with a large body of work in Afrikaans and English. This overview focuses primarily on English fiction, though it also touches on major poetic developments.

The colonial adventure

The first fictional works to emerge from South Africa were produced by colonial writers whose attitude to indigenous South Africans was, at best, ambivalent, if not outright hostile.

This is especially true of the writers of adventure-type stories, in which colonial heroes are romanticised and the role of black South Africans was reduced to that of enemy or servant.

One such writer, Rider Haggard, wrote many mythical and adventure stories, beginning in the early 1880s. His most famous book is King Solomon’s Mines (1886), a bestseller in its day (and filmed several times up to the 1980s).

Like subsequent novels such as Allan Quartermain and She (both 1887), its central character is the hunter Allan Quartermain, Haggard’s ideal of the colonial gentleman.

Although Haggard wrote many other adventures and fantasies, it is his highly coloured African works that are still read today.

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