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Writing the World: Southern Africa (Part 1)

By Shaniah Shields, Jia Wen Ho, Leanne Francis and Christina Moore

In the first instalment of our Writing the World: Africa series, we are providing an insight into literature from across Southern Africa. Contemporary writers are reflecting the diverse ethnic and linguistic groups in Southern Africa in their rich and innovative stories.

South Africa

Trevor Noah’s 2016 autobiography, Born a Crime, is a blend of socio-political discussion and a personal view of family and friendship. Set during the twilight of apartheid and the turbulent days of freedom that followed, this memoir is both heart-breaking and hilarious. Written as a series of short essays, it is engaging and the audiobook, narrated by Trevor Noah himself, has fantastic reviews. Born a Crime is being adapted into a film, produced by Noah and Lupita Nyong’o who also stars as Noah’s mother, Patricia.


Mia Couto was an emerging writer after Mozambique gained independence in 1975 and has since had his works translated in over twenty-two countries. Couto’s work is chilling and often features fragmentary narratives which are permeated with magical realism. Notably, his novel Confession of the Lioness has been translated from Couto’s native Portuguese and was a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize in 2015. Couto also contributed to Imagine Africa, a thought-provoking anthology of contemporary African fiction and poetry. The anthology, which reflects the greater African tradition, also featured work from Paulina Chiziane, the first woman in Mozambique to publish a novel.


Lauri Kubuitsile began her writing career with a serialised detective novel for a newspaper. She had owned the newspaper and wanted a serialised novel to market her newspaper. However, she didn’t have the funds to buy rights to a novel and decided to write one herself. When completed, The Fatal Payout was published by Macmillan and was subsequently incorporated into the junior secondary school syllabus. The book follows a complicated murder mystery, involving themes of corruption and HIV/AIDS. In her prolific writing career, Lauri Kubuitsile has written over twenty books and has won The Golden Baobab, Africa’s prize for children’s writing.


Basali! Stories by and about Women in Lesotho is a collection of short stories and a poem written by students at the National University of Lesotho and edited by K. Limakatso Kendall. An ode to the lives of women in Lesotho, the book explores racial persecution, gender discrimination, and the multitudes of hardships and challenges faced by women. Whether told from personal experience or by telling another's experience, this collection gives a glimpse into the way of life familiar to the writers.


Malla Nunn is an award-winning screenwriter and novelist from Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, who resides in Australia. Her most recent release, Sugar Town Queens, was published in August 2021 by Allen & Unwin. Set in Sugar Town, South Africa, Sugar Town Queens is the story of fifteen-year-old Amandla and her enigmatic mother. After discovering a strange address and large sum of money in her mother’s purse, Amandla and her friends embark on a journey to find out the truth. This is a story about honesty, friendship and the pain of uncovering family secrets.


Doek! is an online literary magazine from Namibia. Doek!, which refers to a headscarf and is a shortening of Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, highlights exceptional writers across Africa and the diaspora. This Pan-African literary magazine aims to contribute to “Africa’s literary footprint,” by showcasing the work of storytellers and visual artists to a global audience. Founded in 2019 by Rémy Ngamije and Mutaleni Nadimi, Doek! publishes short fiction, poetry, nonfiction and visual art. You can find out more about Doek! here.


A General Theory of Oblivion (Portuguese: Teoria Geral do Esquecimento) is a novel by José Eduardo Agualusa, born in 1960, he is an Angolan journalist and writer of Portuguese and Brazilian descent.

The novel, published in 2012, recounts the story of a Portuguese woman who locks herself into her apartment with Angola on the brink of independence. She attempts to cut herself off from the external world for three decades until she meets a young boy who informs her of the radical changes which have occurred in the country in the intervening years. The book is based on true events. First written in the author's native language of Portuguese, it was translated into English by Daniel Hahn in 2015.

Artur Carlos Maurício Pestana dos Santos is an Angolan writer of fiction. He writes under the name Pepetela. Mayombe is a book written by Pepetela, which was originally published in 1980. The book was written between 1970 and 1971, when the author was a guerrilla of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and it deals with the daily life of Angolan revolutionaries in the colonial war against Portuguese forces. In the year of its publication, Mayombe won its author the National Prize of Literature of Angola.


NoViolet Bulawayo is the pen name of Elizabeth Zandile Tshele, a Zimbabwean author and Fellow at Stanford University. In 2012, the National Book Foundation named her a ‘5 under 35’ honouree.

Her 2013 debut novel and a coming-of-age story, We Need New Names tells the story of the life of a young girl named Darling, first as a ten-year-old in Zimbabwe, navigating a world of chaos and degradation with her friends, then as a teenager in the United States, where a better future seems possible when she goes to join an aunt working there.


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