A History of South African Literature, timeline1824-2005

1824
The Glasgow Missionary Society founded the school of Lovedale at Alice in the Tyume valley in 1824.
1877
The first biography ever written about a black South African was published. It was written by John A. Chalmers on Rev Tiyo Soga.
1880
With the colonisation of South Africa came the emergence of 'The colonial adventure' writer. These colonial writers were unsettled and intrigued by what they perceived to be exotic elements of indigenous cultures. One such writer was Rider Haggard, who 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. The point of view is that of the heroic Englishman, and indigenous peoples are portrayed either as dangerous savages or given the role of the faithful servant, (Quartermain's Zulu retainer eventually gives his life for his master).
1883
Olive Schreiner's novel, The Story of an African Farm (1883) was published. It is generally considered to be the founding text of South African literature. The novel draws on the post-romantic sensibility of Wuthering Heights, and depicts rural South African life with authenticity and brio. It has been criticised for its silence with regard to the black African presence in South Africa, but it is still a key text in the formation of a truly South African voice.
1884
The first Black-owned and Black-run journal, Tengo Jabavu's Imvo Zabantsundu, was founded.
1889
Douglas Blackburn's Prinsloo of Prinsloosdorp was published. He was a maverick British journalist who came to South Africa when the Transvaal was still a Boer republic, and stayed during the Anglo Boer War and beyond. In several newspapers, he denounced British colonial attitudes as well as satirising Boer corruption. He wrote two novels set in this world, Prinsloo of Prinsloosdorp was one of these two.
1897
Schreiner's Trooper Peter Halkett of Mashonaland was published, it included a critique of Cecil John Rhodes's brutal form of colonialism.
1903
Douglas Blackburn's A Burgher Quixote (1903) was published it was his 2nd novel satirising boere corruption.
1908
Douglas Blackburn's novel Leaven is published. It is a moving denunciation of "blackbirding" and other iniquitous labour practices, and is one of the first South African novels to portray what life was really like for peasants forced into urban labour.
1911
Olive Schreiner's the polemical Women and Labour (1911) was published.
1912
Union in 1910 persuaded many educated Blacks to unite into a single organization in 1912 (the African National Congress) and most writers for the first half of the century, at least, adhered to its ideals.
1915
Douglas Blackburn's Love Muti (1915) attacks British colonial attitudes. Blackburn is not read much today, but his work is an important contribution to a developing South African literature - and style. Herman Charles Bosman, for one, seems to have learned from Blackburn's ironic humour.
1920
The first novel by a black South African was Mhudi (completed in 1920 but only published in 1930), by Solomon (Sol) Thekiso Plaatje. This epic story follows the trajectory of the Tswana people during and after their military encounter with the Zulus under Shaka, the Zulu conqueror of the 19th century, and encompasses their earliest encounters with the white people moving into the interior.
1924
Sarah Gertrude Millin, who became the most dominant literary figure between the two world wars, published a book titled God's Stepchildren. Her views on the "tragedy" of racial miscegenation were put forward in this publication. Seen in terms of racial hierarchies, with whites at the top and blacks at the bottom, Millin's views represented those held widely at the time.
1925
Thomas Mofolo's Chaka reinvents the legendary Zulu king (commonly referred to as Shaka). The novel was published in 1925 and the first English translation came out in 1930.
1926
Just as Olive Schreiner had drawn fire from the colonial elite for her liberal views, so did William Plomer, decades later, shock colonial society with his novel Turbott Wolfe (1926), written when he was only 19 years old. It tackled the highly sensitive issue of inter-racial love, though it is hardly a roistering sexual chronicle. It was, however, an indictment of white South African attitudes at the time, and a mere suggestion that there might be some human sympathy, let alone sexual attraction, between a white person and a black person, horrified many. There is also open discussion of the political and racial situation in South Africa. Along with his contemporaries and sometime collaborators Laurens van der Post and Roy Campbell, Plomer left South Africa soon after the publication of his novel.
1928
R R R Dhlomo published a short novel, An African Tragedy.
1930
Black writers started to develop a western-style of drama in the 1930s, most notably with the plays of Herbert Dhlomo. However, most black literary activity still centred at newspapers, such as Bantu World.
R R R Dhlomo's Plaatje's Mhudi was finally published.
1932
Bantu World, a black literary newspaper, was founded.
1940
The 1940s saw the beginnings of a flowering of literature by black South Africans, as a generation of mission-educated Africans came of age.
1941
HIE Dhlomo published a compilation of his works, which preached a "return to the source" - the wisdom of finding traditional ways of dealing with modern problems. His publication included several plays and the long poem The Valley of a Thousand Hills (1941).
1946
Peter Abrahams, an important voice who began writing in the 1940s, was of mixed-race descent. His early novel, Mine Boy (1946), was published in the same year in which a large miners' strike was violently suppressed by Smuts' government. Mine Boy depicts life in black areas of the time, and dramatises the problems of rural people in a depressed urban environment - a theme that was referred to as the "Jim comes to Jo'burg" phenomenon in South African literature. E'skia Mphahlele's short story Man Must Live was published. Taken as a whole, Mphahlele's oeuvre represents one of the most important views of the life experience and developing views of a politically aware South African; this is the work of a black man taking the urban scenario as his subject matter and moving beyond the sometimes contradictory messages of the mission-educated generation.
1947
Another South African writer who emerged in the 1940s, Herman Charles Bosman, has become one of the country's best-loved authors, particularly for his short stories set in the Groot Marico farming district. Bosman's first collection of stories, Mafeking Road, was published.
1948
Cry, The Beloved Country (1948) is possibly the most famous novel to have come out of South Africa. When it was first published, it was an international bestseller, launching its author, Alan Paton, to worldwide fame. The novel put South Africa on the map of international politics by making visible to Western audiences the effects of racial prejudice and the oppression of black people. Peter Abrahams: The Path of Thunder (1948), which deals with interracial love.
1949
One of HC Bosman's best works, Cold Stone Jug (1949), is a semi-fictionalised account of his time in jail, was published.
1950
The 1950s was the decade in which the African National Congress and its alliance partners launched the massive Defiance Campaign, a huge peaceful affront on white supremacy. It was the decade in which the Freedom Charter, the central document of the anti-racist movement, was written on the basis of contributions from all over the country. And it was the decade in which the apartheid state responded with massive treason trials for those who defied it. The 1950s also saw a new generation of black writers talking about the conditions of their lives in their own voices - voices with a distinctive stamp and style. The popular Drum magazine in the 1950s was their forum, and encouraged their emergence. It depicted a vibrant urban black culture for the first time - a world of jazz, shebeens (illegal drinking dens), and flamboyant gangsters (tsotsis). At the same time as the Drum generation was creating the first urban black voice, one of South Africa's most important white writers was beginning her long, distinguished career. Nadine Gordimer published her first short stories in the early 1950s; in 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Between those two dates, her many novels and short stories articulated key issues for white South Africans sympathetic to the plight of disenfranchised blacks, as well as providing for the outside world a devastating picture of what it was like to live under apartheid.
1953
Peter Abrahams: Return to Goli (1953), was published.
1954
Peter Abrahams published his autobiography, Tell Freedom (1954).
1956
Publication of the art magazine Africa South and the literary magazine the Purple Renoster.
1958
Nadine Gordimer's second novel, A World of Strangers (1958) was published.
1959
E'skia Mphahlele's autobiographical Down Second Avenue (1959) is a landmark in the development of South African fiction. Set in a village and a township near Pretoria, the text records the resilience of various female characters in Mphahlele's life, who defy poverty and urban squalor to bring him up.
1960
In the early 1960s, the State of Emergency used by the apartheid state to crack down on dissidents, the banning of political organisations such as the African National Congress and the Pan African Congress, and the jailing of leaders such as Nelson Mandela, sent many black writers into exile. Among them was Alex la Guma, a Marxist and ANC leader who saw the purpose of his work as the exposure of the dreadful conditions of South Africa's oppressed. At the same time, in the 1960s, new talent was emerging in the Afrikaans literary scene; writers Jan Rabie, Etienne Leroux, Breyten Breytenbach and Andre Brink. Publishing first in Afrikaans, these writers were increasingly politicised by the situation in South Africa and their contrasting experiences overseas. During this period, Bessie Head emerged as a leading South African female writer, with the role of women as her central concern. Of mixed blood, and with a traumatic family history, Head left South Africa to avoid its racial policies. She settled in Botswana. Another writer to make his name in the 1960s was Wilbur Smith, South Africa's most popular literary export. The 1960s also saw the emergence of a new generation of white South African poets, among them Douglas Livingstone, Sidney Clouts, Ruth Miller, Lionel Abrahams and Stephen Gray.
Breytenbach, who began as one of the most linguistically radical new poets in Afrikaans, left South Africa in 1960, where he became a vocal critic of the apartheid state.
The New English language literary magazine Contrast was launched.
During this year there was debate and division amongst the magazine kol /spot white afrikaaner writers on how to deal with the crisis facing their community in the wake of the events after Sharpeville. See Andre Brink's article. Pg27.
Ronald Segal, editor of the magazine Africa Sout,h goes into exile. The magazine is eventually published from London.
1962
Alex la Guma: A Walk in the Night (1962) was published. E'skia Mphahlele's: A critique The African Image was published. Albert Luthuli's Let My People Go was published. This book carried on the autobiographical tradition now evident in black writing.
1963
Jack Cope, editor of Contrast, is one of 102 people listed as a communist.

The first issue of the magazine Classic, edited by Nat Nasaka, was published.

Passing of the 1963 publication and entertainment act.

Formation of group and magazine Sestiger.

1964
Wilbur Smith: Where the Lion Feeds (1964) was published.
1965
Writers Nat Nakasa and Lewis Nkosi were awarded Niemann Fellowership to study abroad. They were refused passports and were forced to leave South Africa on an exit permit. As a result they lost their South African citizenship.

14th July. Nat Nakasa dies in exile after a fall from the seventh floor of a building in New York.

19th July. Poet, Ingrid Jonker, commits suicide by drowning in Cape Town.

Publication of New Coin, a poetry magazine.
1966
Nadine Gordimer's The Late Bourgeois World was published. Wilbur Smith's The Sound of Thunder (1966) was published. Prime minister Vorster's government list the names of 46 South Africans in exile. The ban meant that all the people on the list, many of whom were leading writers, could not have their work published, distributed or quoted inside the country.
1967
Alex la Guma's Threefold Cord was published. E'skia Mphahlele's Short story In Corner B was published. Earnest Cole, who was in exile, publishes his book House of Bondage, the book was banned in the country.
1968
Bessie Head's When Rain Clouds Gather was published. Publication of Ingrid Jonker's Selected Poems by Jack Cope and William Plumer.
1969
Arrest of writer Wally Serote and photographer Peter Magubane, together with Winnie Mandela and others. They were kept in solitary for long periods of time and were later charged for 'furthering the aims of a banned organisation', these charges were eventually acquitted June.
1970
In the 1970s, South Africa experienced a literary revival of black voices that had been silenced by repression. The 1970s are widely regarded as a defining period for the development of political consciousness among black South Africans, with the rise of the Black Consciousness (BC) movement, of which Bantu Steve Biko was a leading figure, and the youth revolt of 1976. Literature became a vehicle to promote the political ideals of anti-apartheid popular movements, through poems, plays and such journals as Black Review, in which Steve Biko played a prominent part. Many of these productions were designed to mobilise audiences against state policies, and the genres of drama and poetry were utilised for their immediacy of impact. The most notable writers from this period are Mongane (Wally) Serote, Sipho Sepamla, Oswald Joseph Mbuyiseni Mtshali, Christopher van Wyk, Mafika Gwala and Don Mattera. Their poems were often performed at political rallies. Also in the 1970's Breyten Breytenbach returned to South Africa and was arrested and jailed for the work he was doing for the liberation movement. From this experience came his prison memoir, True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist (1996).
1971
E'skia Mphahlele's novel The Wanderers was published. Bessie Head's Maru was published. Oswald Joseph Mbuyiseni Mtshali's Volume of poems The Sound of a Cowhide Drum, was published. Publication of the magazine Izwi.
1972
Alex la Guma's novel, In the Fog of the Season's End (1972), possibly his best, was published. It shows the developing consciousness of a man dedicated to the underground struggle for freedom. As a "listed person", little of La Guma's work was available in South Africa until 1990, when the liberation movements were unbanned. Mongane (Wally) Serote's volume of poems, Yakhal'inkomo (1972), was published.
SPROCAS Publishes the book of poems Cry Rage by James Matthews and Gladys Thomas it was banned.
1973
Andre Brink's novel Looking on Darkness was banned. Bessie Head: A Question of Power was published. Modikwe Dikobe, The Marabi Dance was published in 1973, a superbly authentic recreation of the Johannesburg of the 1930s.
1974
Nadine Gordimer: The Conservationist, which pits Afrikaner land hunger against the indigenous population in an often phantasmagoric narrative, was published. Mongane (Wally) Serote: volume of poems Tsetlo.
1976
Breyten Breytenbach : A Season in Paradise was published Conference on black writing : problems and prospects of a traditions 17-19- April organised by New Classic and Sketch magazine.
1977
Bessie Head's, The Collector of Treasures, was published. It is her most autobiographical work, dealing with the traumas of her own illegitimate mixed-race birth, her mother's suicide and her own nervous breakdown. Stephen Gray: semi-autobiographical novel, The Celibacy of Felix Greenspan (1977), was published. Oswald Joseph Mbuyiseni Mtshali: Poems: The Soweto I Love (1977), was published.
1978
Mongane (Wally) Serote: volume of poems Behold Mama, Flowers was published.
1979
Nadine Gordimer: Burger's Daughter (1979 ) was published.
1980
Increasing internal and external pressure on the apartheid state led, in the 1980s, to its most repressive measures yet. While sanctions were imposed from outside, a mass democratic movement, based on the ideals of the Freedom Charter, arose within the country. The state responded with successive states of emergency that brought white troops to the townships; a state of civil war existed in all but name.

With these political happenings came the driving need for politicised work, as it had been in the 1970s. Poets such as the orator Mzwakhe Mbuli reached vast audiences, while novelists such as Menan du Plessis and Mandla Langa engaged with the business of resistance to apartheid. Yet, at the same time, some writers felt the need for a move away from rhetoric toward the depiction of ordinary life. JM Coetzee, began publishing in the 1970s, but achieved prominence in these "emergency years" of the 1980's. Lesego Rampolokeng came to prominence in the 1980s, through the Congress of South African Writers. He used a vibrant mix of rap-styled poetry and township idiom, and displayed no loyalty to any figures of authority. His poems are published in Horns for Hondo (1991) and End Beginnings (1993). A powerful live performer of his work, he has collaborated with musicians as well.
Miriam Tlali's Amandla (1980) was published.
Coetzee's novel Waiting for the Barbarians (1980) was published. It tackles issues relevant to South Africa by telling the story of an official at the outpost of an unidentified empire, one under stress from a barbarian threat that may or may not be imagined.
Disbandment of PEN and the formation of Black only African Writers Association.
1981
Nadine Gordimer's July's People was published. It is perhaps Gordimer's most powerful novel, it projects into the future the final collapse of white supremacy and what that might mean for white and black people on an intimate level. Serote (who became an ANC leader) is also the author of the novel published in this year, To Every Birth Its Blood. An account of political activity in the 1970s.
1982
Andre Brink's immensely powerful novel A Dry White Season was published, it focused on the death in detention of a black activist, and caused great irritation to the apartheid state, and at the same time educated many white South Africans. It was also banned, then unbanned. Mbulelo Mzamane's The Children of Soweto was published.
1983
Njabulo Ndebele's Fools and Other Stories was published. JM Coetzee's Life and Times of Michael K (1983), won the Booker Prize in Britain. Jeremy Cronin's, book of poetry Inside, was published by Raven Press.
1986
Black Mamba Rising poems by Alfred Qabula was published by Cosatu worker resistance and Cultural publications.
1987
Don Mattera wrote an account of life in Sophiatown, and its destruction, in Memory is the Weapon.
1988
Breyten Breytenbach's prison poetry was published in English in Judas Eye.
1990
JM Coetzee: Age of Iron (1990), which takes the perspective of a white academic who is dying even as the townships explode with violence.
Ivan Vladislavic's collections of stories, Missing Persons (1990)
Apartheid came to an end, but its effects lingered on, and as writers such as Coetzee had demonstrated, the issues of power that haunted the apartheid era were still in many ways with South Africans. Certainly, while there was no sudden post-apartheid renaissance, there were many important writers who dealt with and who are dealing with South Africa in the 1990s, and processing its past, which is still in many ways with us today. Among them, one of the most acclaimed is Zakes Mda, who worked for many years as a playwright and poet before publishing his first novels in 1995. He started with a bang - with two novels, She Plays with the Darkness and Ways of Dying. The latter, the story of a professional mourner, won the M-Net Book Prize.
Ivan Vladislavic is another author who pushed into the post-apartheid future, with distinctly post-modern works that play with the conventions of fiction as much as they speak about contemporary realties in South Africa today.
1991
The Nobel Prize for literature was won by Nadine Gordimer. Andre Brink's An Act of Terror (1991), dealing with an Afrikaner dissident turned "terrorist", was published.
1993
Breyten Breytenbach's Return to Paradise was published. Andre Brink's On the Contrary (1993), a playful reworking of South Africa's colonial history, was published. Ivan Vladislavic's novel The Folly was published.
1994
Mongane (Wally) Serote's volume of poems Come and Hope with Me, was published. It won the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa.
1996
Breyten Breytenbach's essays were published in The Memory of Birds in Times of Revolution.
1997
Mark Behr, one of the most compelling and controversial additions to South African literature, published his first novel, The Smell of Apples, it was first published in Afrikaans. It tells of white South Africans who were brainwashed by the apartheid system, and went on to win several prizes. Soon after that, Behr admitted that he had been a spy for the apartheid police while a student activist; a graphic illustration, if one were needed, of the divided loyalties felt by many whites in that period.
1999
Mongane (Wally) Serote's novel Gods of our Time (1999) was published, it reconstructs civil and military campaigns which led to the demise of apartheid. JM Coetzee's, Disgrace (1999), won him a second Booker Prize and caused huge debate in South Africa over its depiction of a post apartheid reality in which the wounds of the past have not been healed - and new ones are being inflicted. JM Coetzee's The Lives of Animals, edited and introduced by Amy Gutmann (1999); was published.
2000
Ivan Vladislavic's collections of stories, Propaganda by Monuments (2000), was published. K Sello Duiker, a young novelist, made a plash in South Africa, with two novels, Thirteen Cents (2000) and The Quiet Violence of Dreams (2001), coming out in quick succession. Both have won him awards and critical acclaim. Set in the urban landscape of Cape Town, the two novels see the world through the eyes of the underdog, a street kid in the first and an ostracised gay student in the second. Behr's second novel, Embrace (2000) was published. Kgafela wa Magogodi is a poet who probes issues such as Aids in his collection Thy Condom Come (2000).
2001
JM Coetzee: The Humanities in Africa - Die Geisteswissenschaften in Afrika (2001) and Stranger Shores: Essays, 1986 to 1999 (2001), were published. Zakes Mda's The Heart of Redness, won the Commonwealth Prize Ivan Vladislavic's novel The Restless Supermarket was published. Zoe Wicomb's, David's Stor, was published ( winner of the M-Net Book Prize). It interrogates the past and present of an anti-apartheid activist, as does Achmat Dangor's Bitter Fruit, also published in 2001. Phaswane Mpe's Welcome to Our Hillbrow (2001) was published. It is a critically acclaimed view of the physical and moral decay in both the rural areas of Tiragalong and the urban ghetto of Hillbrow.
2002
Stephen Gray's semi-autobiographical novel, The White Life of Felix Greenspan (2002), was published.
JM Coetzee's Youth (2002) was published.
2003
Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
2005
JM Coetzee's Slow Man (2005) was published.