Famous South African Writers

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Find out more about the greatest South African Writers, including J. M. Coetzee, Bryce Courtenay, Ronald Harwood, Athol Fugard and Austin Stevens.
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 1 
Wilbur A. Smith
(Zambian-born British-South African novelist Who Specialised in Historical Fiction )
Wilbur A. Smith
5
Birthdate: January 9, 1933
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Kabwe, Zambia
Died: November 13, 2021

South African novelist, Wilbur A. Smith, specializes in historical fiction and writes extensively about the international involvement in Southern Africa over the past few centuries. An accountant by profession, he started writing professionally when he was in his 30s. Many of his novels became best-sellers, and he has sold more than 120 million copies of his 35 published novels. 

 2 
Nadine Gordimer
(Writer, Political Activist)
Nadine Gordimer
4
Birthdate: November 20, 1923
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Transvaal, South Africa
Died: July 13, 2014

Nadine Gordimer was a South African political activist and writer. Gordimer, who wrote extensively on racial and moral issues such as apartheid in South Africa, was honored with the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature. An important member of the anti-apartheid movement, Nadine Gordimer's advice to Nelson Mandela led to his famous 1964 defense speech, which eventually led to his conviction.

 3 
Keorapetse Kgositsile
(Poet, Journalist, Political activist)
Keorapetse Kgositsile
6
Birthdate: September 19, 1938
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Johannesburg, South Africa
Died: January 3, 2018

Keorapetse Kgositsile was a South African Tswana journalist, poet, and political activist. During the 1960s and 1970s, Kgositsile played an important role in the development of the African National Congress. Keorapetse Kgositsile helped bridge the gap between black poetry in the United States of America and African poetry. He was inaugurated as the nation's National Poet Laureate in 2006.

 4 
Zindzi Mandela
(Diplomat)
Zindzi Mandela
6
Birthdate: December 23, 1960
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Johannesburg, South Africa
Died: July 13, 2020

Zindzi Mandela was a South African poet and diplomat best known as the daughter of the famous anti-apartheid activist, Nelson Mandela. From 1996 to 1998, she also served as a temporary First Lady of South Africa. Over the years, she has been portrayed in films and TV films, such as Mrs Mandela (2009), Invictus (2009), and Mandela (1987).

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 5 
Ahmed Deedat
(Writer)
Ahmed Deedat
4
Birthdate: July 1, 1918
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Surat
Died: August 8, 2005

Ahmed Deedat was a South African public speaker and writer of Indian descent. A popular Muslim missionary, Deedat is remembered for his inter-religious public debates with Christians. He is credited with establishing an Islamic missionary organization called IPCI. In 1986, he was honored for his missionary work with the prestigious King Faisal International Prize.  

 6 
Alan Paton
(Writer, Autobiographer, Screenwriter)
Alan Paton
4
Birthdate: January 11, 1903
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Pietermaritzburg
Died: April 12, 1988

Alan Paton was a South African anti-apartheid activist and author best remembered for his novels, Too Late the Phalarope and Cry, the Beloved Country. Through his works, Paton aimed at exposing the apartheid oppression to reform his society. He was honored on various occasions for his exceptional contribution to literature. The Alan Paton Award is presented annually in his honor.

 7 
Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa
(Writer, Traditional healer)
Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa
4
Birthdate: July 21, 1921
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Zululand DC, South Africa
Died: March 25, 2020

Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa was a South African traditional healer and author who belonged to the popular ethnic group, Zulu. His books dealt with such subjects as African mythology, extraterrestrial encounters, and traditional Zulu folklore. Credo was a sangoma or traditional healer who ran a hospice clinic in Kuruman with his wife Virginia.  

 8 
Athol Fugard
(Actor, Writer, Novelist, Screenwriter, Journalist, Playwright, Theatre director)
Athol Fugard
4
Birthdate: June 11, 1932
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Middelburg

Athol Fugard is a South African playwright, director, novelist, and actor. Widely regarded as the greatest South African playwright of all time, Fugard has received several prestigious awards and honors including a Tony Award for lifetime achievement. His novel Tsotsi, which was adapted into a film by filmmaker Gavin Hood, earned Hood an Academy Award.

 9 
Bryce Courtenay
(One of Australia's Best-Selling Authors, Known for His Book ‘The Power of One’)
Bryce Courtenay
4
Birthdate: August 14, 1933
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Johannesburg, South Africa
Died: November 22, 2012

Bryce Courtenay was a South African-Australian novelist and advertising director. Best remembered for his novel The Power of One, Courtenay remains one of Australia's best-selling writers several years after his death. Bryce Courtenay's relationship with his readers played an important role in his success; he often gave away free books to gain a loyal fan base.

 10 
Mary Renault
(Writer)
Mary Renault
4
Birthdate: September 4, 1905
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: London, England
Died: December 13, 1983

Mary Renault was a British writer best remembered for her historical novels. Some of her historical novels, such as The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea were adapted into a BBC Radio 4 serial. Although she is renowned for her fictional portrayals of prominent real-life characters like Alexander the Great, Mary Renault also wrote Alexander's non-fiction biography.

 11 
Laurens van der Post
(South African Writer)
Laurens van der Post
3
Birthdate: December 13, 1906
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Orange River Colony, South Africa
Died: December 15, 1996

Laurens van der Post was a South African author, soldier, farmer, educator, humanitarian, philosopher, journalist, and conservationist. A close friend of Prince Charles, Van der Post also served as political adviser to several British officials. He was also the godfather of Prince William. 

 12 
Austin Stevens
(Photographer, Writer)
Austin Stevens
5
Birthdate: May 19, 1950
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Pretoria

Austin Stevens is a South African-born Australian herpetologist, television personality, naturalist, wildlife photographer, author, and documentarian. Stevens is renowned for hosting the popular TV series Austin Stevens: Snakemaster on Animal Planet from 2004 to 2009. Apart from showcasing snakes, the show also focused on other wild animals like rhinos and hyenas.

 13 
Ruth First
(Author, Politician, University teacher, Writer, Journalist, Martyr, Political activist)
Ruth First
4
Birthdate: May 4, 1925
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Johannesburg
Died: August 17, 1982

South African activist/journalist Ruth First is remembered for her relentless fight against apartheid. Born to Latvian immigrants and founders of the South African Communist Party, First was later tried for treason and detained. While working at a Mozambican university in exile, she was assassinated in a parcel bomb attack

 14 
Mbongeni Ngema
(South African Writer, Lyricist, Composer, Director, Choreographer and Theatre Producer)
Mbongeni Ngema
5
Birthdate: June 1, 1956
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Verulam, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

A South African Zulu, Mbongeni Ngema worked as a manual laborer and a guitarist before venturing into theater and then becoming a playwright and a director. While he created controversy with his play Asinamali!, he gained international repute with Sarafina! He was also a choir director for The Lion King.

 15 
Breyten Breytenbach
(Poet and painter known for his opposition to apartheid, and consequent imprisonment by the South African government)
Breyten Breytenbach
3
Birthdate: September 16, 1939
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Bonnievale, South Africa
 16 
John Langalibalele Dube
(South African Essayist, Novelist, Poet and Founding President of the South African Native National Congress)
John Langalibalele Dube
2
Birthdate: February 22, 1871
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Died: February 11, 1946

John Langalibalele Dube was a South African essayist, philosopher, politician, publisher, educator, editor, novelist, and poet. He served as the president of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) from 1912 to 1917. He felt strongly about human rights and founded the Inanda Seminary Institute for Girls. He was passionate about encouraging black people to launch their own businesses. 

 17 
Olive Schreiner
3
Birthdate: March 24, 1855
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Lesotho
Died: December 11, 1920
 18 
Fatima Meer
(Writer)
Fatima Meer
4
Birthdate: August 12, 1928
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Durban, South Africa
Died: March 12, 2010
 19 
Ronald Harwood
(Writer, Screenwriter, Film producer, Playwright, Stage actor)
Ronald Harwood
4
Birthdate: November 9, 1934
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Cape Town
 20 
Bessie Emery Head
(Former writer who wrote novels, short fiction and autobiographical works that are infused with spiritual questioning and reflection)
Bessie Emery Head
3
Birthdate: July 6, 1937
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Died: April 17, 1986
 21 
Robert Calvert
(Former writer, musician principally known for his role as lyricist, performance poet and lead vocalist of the space rock band Hawkwind)
Robert Calvert
4
Birthdate: March 9, 1945
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Pretoria, South Africa
Died: August 14, 1988

Better known as the resident poet of the space rock band Hawkwind, Robert Calvert was born in South Africa and later moved to England with his family. Initially a building surveyor, he later joined the counterculture movement of the late ‘60s. He is best remembered for songs such as Urban Guerrilla.

 22 
Harry Frederick Oppenheimer
4
Birthdate: October 28, 1908
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Kimberley
Died: August 19, 2000
 23 
Neil Turok
(South African Physicist Who Is Known for Introducing the Ekpyrotic Universe Theory)
Neil Turok
4
Birthdate: November 16, 1958
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Johannesburg
 24 
Roy Campbell
4
Birthdate: October 2, 1901
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Durban, South Africa
Died: April 23, 1957
 25 
Joseph Wolpe
(Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist, Psychologist, University teacher)
Joseph Wolpe
4
Birthdate: April 20, 1915
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Johannesburg
Died: December 4, 1997

South African psychiatrist Joseph Wolpe, a leading figure in behaviour therapy, is noted for his reciprocal inhibition methods, especially for developing systematic desensitization. He also developed Subjective Units of Disturbance Scale and created Fear Survey Plan and Subjective Anxiety Scale. He was ranked as the 53rd most-cited psychologist of the twentieth-century in a 2002 survey of Review of General Psychology.

 26 
André Brink
(South African Novelist, Essayist and Poet Best Known for His Novel ‘A Dry White Season')
André Brink
4
Birthdate: May 29, 1935
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Vrede, South Africa
Died: February 6, 2015

André Brink was a South African essayist, novelist, and poet. Brink used both English and Afrikaans to write. He also worked at the University of Cape Town where he taught English. In the 1960s, Brink played a significant role in a literary movement called Die Sestigers, which sought to use Afrikaans to speak against the apartheid regime.

 27 
Ingrid Jonker
4
Birthdate: September 19, 1933
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Douglas, South Africa
Died: July 19, 1965
 28 
Dennis Brutus
2
Birthdate: November 28, 1924
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Harare, Zimbabwe
Died: December 26, 2009
 29 
Peter Abrahams
(Novelist)
Peter Abrahams
2
Birthdate: March 3, 1919
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Vrededorp
Died: January 18, 2017
 30 
Tumi Molekane
(Rapper, Poet)
Tumi Molekane
2
Birthdate: August 16, 1981
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Tanzania
 31 
Noel Langley
(South African Novelist, Playwright, Screenwriter, and Film Director)
Noel Langley
4
Birthdate: December 25, 1911
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Died: November 4, 1980

South Africa-born novelist and screenwriter Noel Langley began his career in London with his play Queer Cargo. Concurrently with writing plays, he also started publishing novels like Cage Me a Peacock, and There's a Porpoise Close Behind Us, very soon gaining recognition in Hollywood with screenplay Maytime.  His other popular screenplays include The Wizard of Oz, Tom Brown’s Schooldays etc.

 32 
Mazisi Kunene
3
Birthdate: May 12, 1930
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Durban, South Africa
Died: August 11, 2006
 33 
Herman Charles Bosman
(Short Story Writer)
Herman Charles Bosman
4
Birthdate: February 3, 1905
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Kuils River, Cape Town, South Africa
Died: October 14, 1951
 34 
Es'kia Mphahlele
(South African Writer and One of the Founding Figures of Modern African Literature)
Es'kia Mphahlele
4
Birthdate: December 17, 1919
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Marabastad, South Africa
Died: October 27, 2008

Best known for penning Down Second Avenue, which is regarded as a South African classic, Es'kia Mphahlele was initially a teacher whose term was terminated due to his opposition of the Bantu Education Act. He later held multiple academic posts in Europe, Africa, and the US.

 35 
Alex La Guma
(South African Novelist Known for His Vivid Style, Distinctive Dialogue, and Realistic, Sympathetic Portrayal of Oppressed Groups)
Alex La Guma
2
Birthdate: February 20, 1924
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Cape Town, South Africa
Died: October 11, 1985

South African author Alex La Guma, best known for his works such as A Walk in the Night and In the Fog of the Season’s End, was born into a family that was associated with the black liberation movement. He also served as the main representative of the African National Congress.

 36 
Chris Barnard
(Author and Movie Scriptwriter)
Chris Barnard
4
Birthdate: July 15, 1939
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Nelspruit, South Africa
Died: December 28, 2015

Chris Barnard was a South African cardiac surgeon best remembered for performing the first human-to-human heart transplant surgery in the world. Barnard is credited with developing a cure for intestinal atresia in children. He saved the lives of at least 10 babies in Cape Town and his technique was adopted by surgeons in the United States of America and Britain.   

 37 
Njabulo Ndebele
(Vice-Chancellor and Principal at the University of Cape Town from July 2000 to June 2008)
Njabulo Ndebele
0
Birthdate: July 4, 1948
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Johannesburg, South Africa
 38 
William Plomer
(South African-British Novelist, Poet and Literary Editor Known for Editing the Diaries of Francis Kilvert)
William Plomer
1
Birthdate: December 10, 1903
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Transvaal, South Africa
Died: September 20, 1973

Born in South Africa, British author William Plomer created controversy with his very first novel, Turbott Wolfe, which had some white characters as villains. His works include poetry, novels, memoirs, short stories, and opera librettos, too. He had also earned awards such as the Costa Book Award.

 39 
Lewis Nkosi
(South African Novelist, Essayist and Poet)
Lewis Nkosi
1
Birthdate: December 5, 1936
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Died: September 5, 2010

South African writer Lewis Nkosi had initially been a journalist for the Zulu-English paper Ilanga lase Natal. After receiving a scholarship to Harvard, he was exiled from his country by the Suppression of Communism Act. His critical essays appeared in Home and Exile, and his themes included politics and sexuality.

 40 
Tiyo Soga
(Author)
Tiyo Soga
1
Birthdate: 1829 AD
Birthplace: Tyume, South Africa
Died: August 12, 1871

South African journalist Tiyo Soga is best known for his collection of fables and legends. He also translated the Bible and John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress into Xhosa, his native language. He also became the first Black to be ordained in South Africa under the United Presbyterian Church.

 41 
Benedict Wallet Vilakazi
(South African Novelist)
Benedict Wallet Vilakazi
1
Birthdate: January 6, 1906
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: KwaDukuza, South Africa
Died: October 26, 1947

Zulu poet and novelist Benedict Wallet Vilakazi went down in history as the first Black from South Africa to earn a PhD. Initially a teacher, he assisted in compiling a Zulu-English dictionary and also spent most of his life in developing the Zulu language and research and teaching associated with it.

 42 
Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi
(Known for His Works Which Are Regarded as Instrumental in Standardising the Grammar of 'Isixhosa')
Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi
2
Birthdate: December 1, 1875
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Eastern Cape Province, South Africa
Died: July 29, 1945

The father of Xhosa poetry, Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi was a poet and novelist whose works reflected his love for Xhosa history. His works include biblical tales such as U-Samson and poetry collections such as Inzuzo. He added a few stanzas to Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, the national anthem of several African countries.

 43 
Lauren St John
1
Birthdate: 1966
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Kadoma, Zimbabwe
 44 
Gibson Kente
(South African Playwright and Composer)
Gibson Kente
1
Birthdate: July 23, 1932
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: East London, South Africa
Died: November 7, 2004

Known as the father of township drama, or Black theater, Gibson Kente was a master playwright, who had also directed How Long (Must We Suffer…)?, the first prominent South African movie made by a Black artist. While dying from HIV, he made a public plea for donations, announcing his bankruptcy.

 45 
C. Louis Leipoldt
1
Birthdate: December 28, 1880
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Worcester, South Africa
Died: April 12, 1947
 46 
Totius
(Poet)
Totius
1
Birthdate: February 21, 1877
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Paarl, Cape Province, South Africa
Died: July 1, 1953
Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali
1
Birthdate: January 17, 1940
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Vryheid, South Africa
 48 
Richard Rive
(South African Writer)
Richard Rive
1
Birthdate: March 1, 1931
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Cape Town, South Africa
Died: June 4, 1989

Richard Rive, regarded as one of the greatest short story writers of South Africa, mostly wrote on themes such as apartheid. His signature style includes a combination of realistic dialogue and imaginative scenarios. He had also had a PhD from Oxford and lectured at renowned institutes such as Harvard.

 49 
Barney Simon
(Writer)
Barney Simon
1
Birthdate: April 13, 1932
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Johannesburg, South Africa
Died: June 30, 1995
 50 
Heidi Holland
(Journalist)
Heidi Holland
1
Birthdate: October 6, 1947
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Johannesburg, South Africa
Died: August 11, 2012