South African publishers are producing a great deal of relevant non-fiction at the moment: there is clearly a powerful interest in political and social affairs right now. September 2021 is particularly strong in memoirs and biographical works, with several titles that will surely entice readers interested in the lives of prominent South Africans.
Barbara Masekela, sister of world-famous trumpeter Hugh Masekela, tells her story in Poli Poli (Jonathan Ball). It goes up to her moment of exile from South Africa in the early 1960s (she would go on to work for the ANC while in exile, heading its cultural department for many years), telling of her youth in KwaGuqa near eMalahleni and Alexandra township in Johannesburg. Her Afrikaans-speaking Ouma, a beer brewer, is a key figure. Masekela tells her tale in a spirited, textured way, paying attention in particular to the difficulties faced by women in South Africa at the time.
A memoir from the Africanist side, Zwelethu: Our Land (Tafelberg) is Jaki Seroke’s tale of his growing up in Alexandra township as a “poor mother’s son” and getting involved in political struggle, which led later (after some years as a “foot soldier” and courier) to his jailing on Robben Island – where he spent 12 years. He was also a co-founder of Skotaville Press, dedicated to publishing the work of black South African writers such as Miriam Tlali and Es’kia Mphahlele.