Famous South African Writers

Find out more about the greatest South African Writers, including J. M. Coetzee, Bryce Courtenay, Ronald Harwood, Athol Fugard and Austin Stevens.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

Vote for Your Favourite South African Writers

 1 Prue Leith

Prue Leith
4
Famous As: Restaurateur
Birthdate: February 18, 1940
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: South Africa

British-South African chef and culinary expert Prue Leith had begun her career with a lunch-supplying business. She later launched her Michelin-starred restaurant Leith's in Notting Hill and a culinary school. Best known as a judge on The Great British Menu, she is also associated with various charitable initiatives.

 2 J. M. Coetzee

J. M. Coetzee
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Famous As: Novelist, Author, Essayist
Birthdate: February 9, 1940
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Cape Town, South Africa

Nobel Prize- and two-time Booker Prize-winning author J. M. Coetzee had started his career as a Fulbright scholar. After teaching English in the U.S. and South Africa, he now lives and teaches in Australia. He is best known for his colonial settings in novels such as Waiting for the Barbarians.

 3 Chris Barnard

Chris Barnard
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Birthdate: July 15, 1939
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Mataffin, 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.   

 4 Nadine Gordimer

Nadine Gordimer
3
Famous As: Writer, Political Activist
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.

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 5 Mangosuthu Buthelezi

Mangosuthu Buthelezi
3
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: August 27, 1928
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Mahlabathini, South Africa

Mangosuthu Buthelezi is a South African politician who is credited with founding the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). He was widely regarded as one of the most important black leaders during the apartheid era. From 1994 to 2004, he served as South Africa's minister of home affairs. He has also won many awards, such as Nadaraja Award and Magna Award.

 6 Keorapetse Kgositsile

Keorapetse Kgositsile
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Famous As: Poet, Journalist, Writer
Birthdate: September 19, 1938
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Johannesburg

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.

 7 Zindzi Mandela

Zindzi Mandela
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Famous As: Diplomat
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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 8 Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa

Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa
3
Famous As: Ufologist, Writer
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.  

 9 Athol Fugard

Athol Fugard
3
Famous As: Actor, Writer, Novelist, Screenwriter, Journalist, Playwright, Theatre director
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.

 10 Bryce Courtenay

Bryce Courtenay
3
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: August 14, 1933
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Johannesburg
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.

 11 Alan Paton

Alan Paton
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Famous As: Writer, Autobiographer, Screenwriter
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.

 12 Austin Stevens

Austin Stevens
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Famous As: Photographer, Writer
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 Laurens van der Post

Laurens van der Post
3
Famous As: Novelist, Writer, Screenwriter, Journalist
Birthdate: December 13, 1906
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Philippolis
Died: December 16, 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. 

 14 Mbongeni Ngema

Mbongeni Ngema
3
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: May 10, 1955
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Verulam, KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, 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 Ronald Harwood

Ronald Harwood
2
Famous As: Writer, Screenwriter, Film producer, Playwright, Stage actor
Birthdate: November 9, 1934
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Cape Town

 16 Breyten Breytenbach

Breyten Breytenbach
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Famous As: Poet, Writer, Painter
Birthdate: September 16, 1939
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Bonnievale

 17 Olive Schreiner

Olive Schreiner
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: March 24, 1855
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Lesotho
Died: December 11, 1920

 18 Ruth First

Ruth First
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Famous As: Author, Politician, University teacher, Writer, Journalist, Martyr, Political activist
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

 19 Bessie Emery Head

Bessie Emery Head
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Birthdate: July 6, 1937
Sun Sign: Cancer
Died: April 17, 1986

 20 Fatima Meer

Fatima Meer
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: August 12, 1928
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Durban, South Africa
Died: March 12, 2010

 21 John Langalibalele Dube

John Langalibalele Dube
2
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: February 22, 1871
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: near Inanda Mission Station, 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. 

 22 Neil Turok

Neil Turok
2
Famous As: Physicist, Non-fiction writer
Birthdate: November 16, 1958
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Johannesburg

 23 Roy Campbell

Roy Campbell
2
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: October 2, 1901
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Durban, South Africa
Died: April 23, 1957

 24 Harry Frederick Oppenheimer

Harry Frederick Oppenheimer
3
Famous As: Businessperson
Birthdate: October 28, 1908
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Kimberley
Died: August 19, 2000

 25 André Brink

André Brink
2
Famous As: Novelist
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.

 26 Robert Calvert

Robert Calvert
2
Famous As: Poet, Singer, Writer
Birthdate: March 9, 1945
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Pretoria
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.

 27 Peter Abrahams

Peter Abrahams
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Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: March 3, 1919
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Vrededorp
Died: January 18, 2017

 28 Ingrid Jonker

Ingrid Jonker
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Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: September 19, 1933
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Douglas, South Africa
Died: July 19, 1965

 29 Joseph Wolpe

Joseph Wolpe
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Famous As: Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist, Psychologist, University teacher
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.

 30 Dennis Brutus

Dennis Brutus
2
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: November 28, 1924
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Harare, Zimbabwe
Died: December 26, 2009

 31 Danie Craven

Danie Craven
2
Famous As: Rugby Union Player
Birthdate: October 11, 1910
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Lindley, South Africa
Died: January 4, 1993

Legendary South African rugby player and coach Danie Craven, also known as Mr. Rugby, boasted of three doctorates and headed the physical education department of the University of Stellenbosch. He was often criticized for doing little to end the segregation in the apartheid-era rugby of South Africa.

 32 Noel Langley

Noel Langley
2
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: December 25, 1911
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Durban, 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.

 33 Herman Charles Bosman

Herman Charles Bosman
2
Famous As: Short Story Writer
Birthdate: February 3, 1905
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Kuils River, Cape Town, South Africa
Died: October 14, 1951

 34 Es'kia Mphahlele

Es'kia Mphahlele
2
Famous As: Writer
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

Alex La Guma
2
Famous As: Novelist
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 Bernard Binlin Dadié

Bernard Binlin Dadié
2
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: January 10, 1916
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Assini, Côte d’Ivoire
Died: March 9, 2019

Better known as a novelist, playwright and poet, Bernard Binlin Dadié was also an able administrator, serving as Ivory Coast's Minister of Culture. Inspired by Africa's rich traditions, he tried to highlight them not only through his writings, but also by publishing several volumes of legends, fables, folktales, and proverbs, concurrently giving expression to Africa's desire for equality and dignity.

 37 William Plomer

William Plomer
1
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: December 10, 1903
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Transvaal, South Africa
Died: September 21, 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.

 38 Tiyo Soga

Tiyo Soga
1
Famous As: Author
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.

 39 Lauren St John

Lauren St John
1
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: November 30, 1966
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Kadoma, Zimbabwe

 40 Gibson Kente

Gibson Kente
1
Famous As: Playwright
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.

 41 Lewis Nkosi

Lewis Nkosi
1
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: December 5, 1936
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Durban, 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.

 42 Benedict Wallet Vilakazi

Benedict Wallet Vilakazi
1
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: January 6, 1906
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Natal
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.

 43 Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi

Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi
1
Famous As: Dramatist
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.

 44 Mazisi Kunene

Mazisi Kunene
1
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: May 12, 1930
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Durban, South Africa
Died: August 11, 2006

 45 C. Louis Leipoldt

C. Louis Leipoldt
1
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: December 28, 1880
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Worcester, South Africa
Died: April 12, 1947

 46 Richard Rive

Richard Rive
1
Famous As: Writer
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.

 47 Barney Simon

Barney Simon
1
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: April 13, 1932
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Johannesburg, South Africa
Died: June 30, 1995

 48 Totius

Totius
1
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: February 21, 1877
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Paarl, Cape Province, South Africa
Died: July 1, 1953

 49 Heidi Holland

Heidi Holland
1
Famous As: Journalist
Birthdate: October 6, 1947
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Johannesburg, South Africa
Died: August 11, 2012

 50 Dan Jacobson

Dan Jacobson
1
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: March 7, 1929
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Johannesburg, South Africa
Died: June 12, 2014

Born in South Africa, Dan Jacobson was the son of a Latvian father and a Lithuanian mother who had fled the persecution of Jews in their countries. His novels such as A Dance in the Sun mirror the racially segregated South African society of his time.