Texts about apartheid

Speeches about apartheid

"Remarks at the Mandela Memorial" by Barack Obama

In his 2013 speech at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama praised Mandela’s commitment to the principles of Ubuntu and his willingness to seek reconciliation instead of revenge - despite having been unjustly imprisoned for 27 years. Obama also put Mandela’s struggle into perspective by discussing similar fights against unjust regimes in other parts of the world and how they can all take inspiration from Mandela’s strong moral principles.

"I Am Prepared to Die" by Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela’s defense speech from the Rivonia Trial, popularly known as “I Am Prepared to Die”, is a powerful accusation against the injustice of the apartheid government. Mandela uses the speech to justify the use of force, explaining why he and his fellow activists felt the need to resort to violence when their non-violent protests repeatedly went unheard. In the famous conclusion to the speech, Mandela states that he is fully prepared to die for his cause.

"Inaugural Speech" by Nelson Mandela

If you are working with the end of apartheid, it may be very useful to bring up this speech, which Nelson Mandela made after he was elected President. It is an uplifting expression of hope for the future of South Africa, though also a warning that the process is not over and that there is still hardship to come.

Other non-fiction texts about apartheid

"What Life Was Like in South Africa During Apartheid" by Michelle Faul

This article gives a personal perspective on life under the apartheid regime. It is particularly interesting because it was written by a person of African ethnicity who later acquired British citizenship, meaning that she was, eventually, able to travel more freely through South Africa than many locals (her British passport letting her count as ‘White’ in some respects). She also talks about the various kinds of discrimination her family faced and she discusses the way families were split up because of the Population Registration Act and the insane “race tests” it often demanded.

"In Celebration of Walls" by Frank Lewinberg

This essay is a reflection on the way the South African city of Johannesburg changed when the apartheid regime came to an end. Lewinberg observes that social divisions between rich and poor became much more visible when apartheid was no longer enforced, because the wealthiest citizens then took matters into their own hands and built private walls around their properties. Lewinberg reflects that the inequality in South African society is not going to disappear any time soon, but still argues that the emergence of private walls is preferable to the systemic injustice and division of the apartheid regime.

Short stories about apartheid

"The Bench" by Richard Rive

This short story is about a black South African who decides to protest against the apartheid system by sitting on a bench reserved for whites only. This quiet act of protest lead to a gathering of people who start to discuss whether the man’s actions are justified or not. He is eventually arrested, but feels satisfied that he has made a difference and called attention to the issue of discrimination.

"Country Lovers" by Nadine Gordimer

This short story describes an illegal interracial relationship in South Africa, resulting in the birth of a mixed-race child. Unable to deal with this situation, the child’s white father is so desperate that he kills his own child to remove the evidence of the affair.

"The Guilt" by Rayda Jacobs

This short story describes an encounter between a white woman and a black man in post-apartheid South Africa. The main conflict in the story is an inner conflict within the white woman, who feels intimidated by the black man and his seemingly threatening behaviour, but also feels the shared guilt of all white people who were part of the apartheid system.

"Head Work" by Abel Phelps

This short story is about a man of 'coloured' ethnicity who loses his job and has trouble getting a new one. He tries to wear a wig in order to look like a white person, but his plan backfires unexpectedly. This absurd tale uses comedy to describe the effects of the racial classification rules, and the way people often tried to get around them. 

"Labour Pains" by Nomavenda Mathiane

This short story is at first about a woman who gives birth and how the people around her react to it and assist her. However, the situation is then compared to the often difficult and painful struggle to resist apartheid, which eventually lead to the birth of a new nation, as people came together to help each other through the difficult times.

"The Moment Before the Gun Went Off" by Nadine Gordimer

This short story touches upon the laws that prohibited relationships between people of different ethnicities. Though the text is at first about an incident in which a white man shoots a black boy by accident, it is later revealed that the truth of the boy’s origins is more complex than it first appears. See our study guide for this short story.

"Once Upon a Time" by Nadine Gordimer

This short story may be viewed as a criticism of the Group Areas Act and similar segregation policies, as Gordimer tells the story of a rich white family who go to extreme lengths to protects their home and their child from non-white people in their area with walls, barbed wire and other security measures. In the end, this has tragic consequences for the family itself, as their own child is killed by the barbed wire surrounding their home.

"Pink" by Judith Thompson

This dramatic monologue is narrated by a white child living under the apartheid system, who describes her relationship with her black nanny, who was shot while protesting against apartheid. The narrator has trouble dealing with her conflicting emotions about this event. Eventually we get signs that she is starting to realise that the apartheid system is unjust, despite having been raised with its racist teachings.

"The Toilet" by Gcina Mhlope

This short story focuses on a young South African woman struggling to find identity and purpose while living under the injustices of the apartheid regime. Throughout the story we see several examples of the difficult living conditions of black South Africans, such as the often poor housing situation, the low quality of available jobs and the continual need to obey the rules of white people in their everyday lives. See our study guide for "The Toilet".

Other texts

Here are further suggestions for texts or movies that may be relevant when working with apartheid. 

Attenborough, Richard - Cry Freedom (movie)

August, Bille - Goodbye Bafana/The Color of Freedom (movie)

Brink, André - A Dry White Season (novel)

de Klerk, F.W. - "Nobel Lecture" (speech)

Gordimer, Nadine - My Son's Story (novel)

Jooste, Pamela - Dance With a Poor Man's Daughter (novel)

Mandela, Nelson - Long Walk to Freedom (biography)

Mandela, Nelson - "Nobel Lecture" (speech)

Reagan, Ronald - "Talk by Reagan on South Africa and Apartheid" (speech)