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Arts, Literature

Miriam Tlali, Uys Krige, Andre Brink, Sharpeville Massacre, Olive Schreiner

South African literature has three main literary traditions in English, Afrikaans, and Bantu languages. Black writers have contributed to South African literature in all of its linguistic traditions, including Sesotho, Xhosa, and Zulu, as well as English and Afrikaans. After the arrival of white settlers, traditional African themes were written in English by blacks who attended mission schools and training colleges in the late 19th century. Between World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945), this literature shifted away from a romanticized portrayal of the world toward the depiction of political oppression. Resistance literature blossomed after the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 and the Soweto uprising in 1976 with themes of black consciousness evident in the poetry and prose of such writers as Mothobi Mutloatse and Miriam Tlali.

Black South Africans have a long and rich oral tradition still important today. Modern writers such as Guybon Sinxo (Xhosa), B. W. Vilakazi (Zulu), Oliver Kgadime Matsepe (Northern Sotho), and Thomas Mofolo (Southern Sotho) have been heavily influenced by the oral traditions of their cultures. Other leading 20th-century black and Coloured writers include J. R. Jolobe, Alex La Guma, Bloke Modisane, Esíkia Mphahlele, and Adam Small.

A specifically South African literature in English, written by white South Africans, emerged with the 1883 publication of The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner, a novel about a young girl growing up in southern Africa. In the 20th century Sir Laurens Van der Post and Peter Lanham have written novels about the cultural heritage of the peoples of South Africa. Others have focused specifically on South Africaís social and political problems. These include novelists Alan Paton and Nadine Gordimer (winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize in literature), and playwright Athol Fugard. Afrikaner novelists, notably Andre Brink and J. M. Coetzee, have also contributed books in English that deal with these issues.

Early Afrikaans writing focused on the political and linguistic struggles of Afrikaners, who are also known as Boers. This continued after the Boer War (1899-1902). Much Afrikaans writing in the 1930s was introspective and autobiographical, but in the 1940s the focus turned to World War II and a new social consciousness. Afrikaans has proved most fruitful as a medium for poetry, reaching mature expression in the 1930s through such poets as N. P. van Wyk Louw, Uys Krige, and Elisabeth Eybers. Other important writers of Afrikaans include poet, dramatist, and critic D. J. Opperman; novelist Etienne Leroux; and poet Breyten Breytenbach, an outspoken opponent of apartheid.

Article key phrases:

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