Reading, Teaching

Five books All Senior South African Students Should Read (according to me, anyway)

1. Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

This is such a necessary book because it gives you a brilliant overview of why the ANC was such a powerhouse of a party, and why Mandela was a great man (minus the ridiculous “ray ban” sculptures “in his honour. Cape Town, I’m looking at you). This is still the best book I have read about Mandela or the ANC. It is gripping, illuminating stuff.

2. Redi Tlabi: Endings and Beginnings

This book tells you something of the effect of apartheid on ordinary people. It is heartbreaking, triumphant and beautifully written. This book will change the way you see, which is what reading is all about.

3. K. Sello Duiker: Thirteen cents

Reading about a street kid trying to survive on Cape Town’s streets makes for uncomfortable reading, but the prose is electric and the author’s months on the streets as research makes this novel seem hyperreal. This is a read-in-one-sitting kind of book.

4. A Hidden Wholeness: Parker Palmer

Palmer is an educationalist and theologian who writes about what it means to live with integrity. In a world where learners and adults alike are forced to construct increasingly strange masks in order to be (what is considered to be) “successful”, Palmer’s book is a clarion call to be true to our souls and to save our communities in the process.

5. Margaret Atwood: The Maddaddam Trilogy

Because climate change is real; and no one describes (and satirises) the patriarchy, environmental movements, unscrupulous big business, the problematic ethics of massive gated communities and the beautiful complications of human relationships like Margaret Atwood can.

Obviously, there are numerous other books I would love to put on this list, but these are the ones I am thinking of today.

To my (numerous) readers: what would be your picks?

PS: Thanks to Prof Jonathan Jansen and Bruce Collins for this idea!


3 thoughts on “Five books All Senior South African Students Should Read (according to me, anyway)

  1. Anonymous14122 says:

    After reading this I wonder why this list has not been spread out to other communities in order to give students guidance… I understand how these books can provide students with substantial useful information when writing their final paper, however most students do not read frequently. If students can not motivate themselves to read books about topics they enjoy then how will they motivate themselves to read books which write about topics they may not find interesting?

    This is coming from a person who struggles with reading. However I suppose that shows through in my writing, to which you have seen before. Being a teacher I assume you have already noticed that. It must be difficult to turn off at times when reading a article or story. I would find that I may never enjoy what I am reading due to how being a teacher forces you to analyze every word and sentence. Is that the case with you ? Are you able to turn on and off your professional instincts in an instant ?


    • I feel a little like most scientists feel, I think. There is the cliche that goes something like knowing how the rainbow works diminishes its beauty, but scientists says that it only enhances it.

      Knowing how to analyse text illuminates everything, and I enjoy reading so much more as a result. It feels like being able to see into different worlds.

      As to choosing texts that learners will like as set works…it is really hit and miss. We try to get it right, but fail now and again. Also, Matric set works are out of our control.

      As to your writing, you should know that it is far better than you think it is.


      • Anonymous14122 says:

        I understand how by having an insight on why things are written and why certain phrases are put in place, it could improve how deeply you are involved in a story.

        However my prefered hobby or skill as per say is to understand people. Analyse, watch and understand how people function. Yet i do find it distracting when i get into a conversation with someone. I constantly notice things that others may not… It comes both as a gift and a burden. I guess different skills have levels of power( for lack of a better word) when interrupting our everyday lives.

        Lastly I would like to thank you for the compliment however the online english test proves otherwise. It should be worrying that the average reading level for Form 5 is “Grade 3”


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