69 books that transport you to South Africa

Updated version, July 2023.

South Africa is simply magnificent. So far, I drove 65,000 kilometres through Southern Africa. At times, I drove all the way to Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe (only to Victoria Falls). I start all my road trips in Cape Town. I have seen where Rooibos tea grows. I learned about the importance of biodiversity. I visited many of South Africa’s National Parks, and the last true wilderness of the country, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. I fell in love with penguins. I got sandblasted by the infamous South Easter and got to know the tablecloth. I jumped into the icy cold Atlantic, if only briefly. 65,000 kilometres of adventure and joy. Do you wonder how I know how many kilometres I did so far? My secret is that I write it all down. There is still so much I would love to see. It feels as if I will never have the time to experience and see everything I dream about. If I can’t go there, I read. I go on a Verbatim Journey.

69 books that transport you to South Africa

Books – Reading - Education

Nelson Mandela said that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I can only agree. The more we know the better. The more we read the better.

Nothing in this world is ever black and white. The more we educate ourselves the better life gets. You can have an opinion on something only when you gather enough information first. How else can you understand what is going on around you? When I visit a place, I like to read about it. Not only the papers and facts but also fiction, prose, and even cookbooks. I read and browse about everything and everyone to get the bigger picture. If I mix this information with the ones getting from talking to people in South Africa, I feel well prepared. I can build an opinion and can participate in a discussion. I can’t stand empty words thrown into thin air just to say something.

What are you about to discover on location in South Africa?

One day, I was at Daunton in London. You know this pretty Edwardian bookstore on Marylebone High Street. One of the prettiest bookshops ever. I realized I have an awful lot of books about South Africa. There wasn’t a single book about South Africa in their travel section that I hadn’t on my bookshelf. I love reading. I love South Africa. After I got over my happy nerdy moment, I put together my reading list for South Africa. These books saved me from being ignorant on my travels to South Africa. Right. Not everyone who plans a two-week trip to South Africa will read all recommended books before heading out there. The list of books gives you a choice and you might get inspired. The books and stories definitely give you a good first taste of what you are about to discover on location in South Africa. In times when we cannot travel, we can always go on a Verbatim Journey to South Africa.

All books are tried and tested by me. Word of warning: If you read all of these and travel to South Africa you will lose your heart to this place forever. There are no links to giant online book buying platforms.

Make sure you are not responsible for the death of your local bookshop

Please buy all books from your local bookshop. No one wants to live in a town centre without independent shops. It is in our hands. Each one of us can vote with our purse. There is no need to support online giants when every one of us can support their own community. You won't find any links in this article to online shops. These book recommendations are purely made out of love for reading and travelling and understanding different cultures. Make sure you are not responsible for the death of your local bookshop. It sounds drastic, but let's face it, it is true. Support local.

Go on a Verbatim Journey - 69 books that transport you directly to South Africa

     1.    491 Days by Winnie Madikizela by Mandela

2.    A City Imagined by Stephen Watson

3.    A Dry White Season by André Brink

4.    A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg A City Novel by Harry Kalmer

5.    Africa the legends live on by Jan Roderigues

6.    Beethoven was one by sixteenth black by Nadine Gordimer

7.    Before Mandela was Mandela by Eric Miyeni

8.    Begging to be black by Antjie Kroog

9.    Blood Safari by Deon Meyer

10. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

11. Cape Town Stories by Madeleine Barnard

12. Childhood by Adrian Hadland

13. Cobra by Deon Meyer

14. Come Sunday by Isla Morley

15. Cry the beloved country by Alan Paton

16. Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux

17. Dead before Dying by Deon Meyer

18. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

19. Down 2nd Avenue by Es'kia Mphahlele

20. Dreamforest by Dalene Matthee

21. Fiela's Child by Dalene Matthee

22. From Aardvark to Zebra. Secrets of African Wildlife by Peter Joyce

23. From Joburg to Jozi. Stories about Africa’s infamous city - Edited by Heidi Holland and Adam Roberts

24. Gang Town by Don Pinnock

25. Gem Squash Tokoloshe by Rachel Zadok

26. I am Ella - A remarkable story of survival, from Auschwitz to Africa by Joanne Jowell

27. In the Heart of the Country by J.M. Coetzee

28. In the words of Nelson Mandela by A little pocketbook

29. Into Africa by Martin Dugard

30. Johannesburg by Fiona Melrose

31. July's People by Nadine Gordimer

32. Karoo Boy by Troy Blacklaws

33. Karoo Keepsakes by Julienne du Toit and Chris Marais

34. Karoo Kitchen by Sydda Essop

35. Khayelitsha by Steven Otter

36. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

37. Long Way Down by Ewan McGregor, Charley Boorman

38. Martha by Winnie Rust

39. Modern South African Stories by Stephen Gray (edited by)

40. My Son's Story by Nadine Gordimer

41. On the Other Side of Shame by Joanne Jowell

42. Panorama by Pieter Dyrk Uys

43. Philida by André Brink

44. Postcards from Soveto by Mokone Molete

45. Praying Mantis by André Brink

46. Recipes for Love and Murder – A Tannie Maria Mystery by Sally Andrew

47. Red Dust by Gillian Slovo

48. Return to Paradise by Breyten Breytenbach

49. Sala Kahle, District Six by Nomvuyo Ngcelwane

50. Sea Mountain, Fire City by Mike Nicol

51. Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Gavin Bell

52. Sorry, not Sorry by Haji Mohamed Dawjee

53. South Africa. A traveler’s literary companion by Edited by Isabel Balseiro

54. South African Fact Book by Denise Slabbert, Pat Hopkins, Jabulile Bongiwe Ngwenya

55. The Covenant by James A Michener

56. The Day I Died by Thembelani Ngenelwa

57. The Healing Land by Rupert Isaacson

58. The Lost World of the Kalahari by Van der Post

59. The Madonna of Excelsior by Zakes Mda

60. The Only Black at a Dinner Party by Eric Miyeni

61. The Satanic Mechanic – A Tannie Maria Mystery by Sally Andrew

62. The State of Africa by Martin Meredith

63. The Wilderness Family by Kobie Kruger

64. Troublemakers by Margaret Renn, Anton Harber

65. The Promise by Damon Galgut

66. Death on the Limpopo by Sally Andrew

67. Milk Tart Murders by Sally Andrew

68. For You I’d Steal a Goat by Niq Mhlongo

69. ‘Buckingham Palace’, District Six by Richard Rive

South Africa on film

Films to watch before you visit South Africa.

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From Berlin with love