“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ~Nelson Mandela
I remember being in my high school English class and reading a story about apartheid. I’d never heard of this before! I’d never read about it in my history classes and, if this were real wouldn’t it be in my history book? Such a systematic and oppressive regime would be important enough to be in the history books if it were real and South Africa was a real place so, I went home and asked my dad if apartheid really existed in South Africa. I was stunned as much in the fact that it existed as I was in the fact that I’d never learned about it before.
Even today, literature introduces issues related to social justice throughout the world that young people never learn about in history or geography classes. Teens will probably be more likely to read the actual words of Nelson Mandela or Paulo Friere in an English class than in a history class.
They may also be more likely to learn cultural similarities and differences through literature. When studying different themes in English class, including writings by Asians and Native Americans will help students realize we’re all in this together. Choose good, authentic writing by African Americans or Latinos that relates directly to the topic being studied. That’s how I began learning about apartheid. Once I was aware of the conditions in South Africa, I paid more attention to news from this country.
And I learned about Nelson Mandela.
English teachers, librarians and parents can continue to introduce young people to South Africa using literature from this region.
This Thing Called the Future by J. L. Powers (Cinco Puntos Press, 2011 Fourteen-year-old Khosi’s mother wants her to get an education to break out of their South African shantytown, although she herself is wasting away from an untreated illness, while Khosi’s grandmother, Gogo, seeks help from a traditional Zulu healer.
Journey to Jo’burg by Beverly Naidoo (J.B. Lippinott, 1985) Separated from their mother by the harsh social and economic conditions prevalent among blacks in South Africa, thirteen-year-old Naledi and her younger brother make a journey of over 300 kilometers to find her in Johannesburg.
Totsi by Athol Fugard (Random House, 1980) Athol Fugard is renowned for his relentless explorations of personal and political survival in apartheid South Africa — which include his now classic plays Master Harold and the Boys and The Blood Knot. Fugard has written a single novel, Tsotsi, which director Gavin Hood has made into a feature film that is South Africa’s official entry for the 2006 Academy Awards. Set amid the sprawling Johannesburg township of Soweto, where survival is the primary objective, Tsotsi traces six days in the life of a ruthless young gang leader.
When we meet Tsotsi, he is a man without a name (tsotsi is Afrikaans for “hoodlum”) who has repressed his past and now exists only to stage and execute vicious crimes. When he inadvertently kidnaps a baby, Tsotsi is confronted with memories of his own painful childhood, and this angry young man begins to rediscover his own humanity, dignity, and capacity to love. (adult crossover)
Somehow Tenderness Survives: Stories of Southern Africa by Hazel Rochman (Harper and Row, 1988) A collection of ten short stories and autobiographical accounts by authors of various races expose the conditions of racism in South Africa.
Themba A Boy Called Hope by Lutz van Dijk (Aurora Metro Books, 2011). A teenager in South Africa achieves his dream of playing professional football – but the prevalence of AIDS in South Africa, affecting young and old alike, means that he must face tough choices along the way.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” ~ Nelson Mandela