This list was primarily created to share with some friends who will be travelling with me to South Africa for the World Cup. However, this list will also be extremely valuable to the following people: (1) those travelling to South Africa for any reason; (2) those who are generally interested in the country; (3) those who will watch all or some of the World Cup on TV; and (4) everyone else.
South Africa's culture is so unique and fascinating, that one would do themselves a disservice by not being versed (at least somewhat) in its history prior to visiting. Having an idea of where this country has come from and what its been through will give you a greater appreciation of your stay. The books and movies below will go a long way in getting you up to speed. While they aren't exhaustive by any means, they'll offer a great entertaining base for those making the trip.
Admittedly the list is light on the last 10 years. I hope to have more to add after the World Cup.
Classic Michener. I love Michener and this is probably my favorite Michener book. A historical epic that covers South Africa's history from early bushmen through the late 70s/early 80s. 1,000 + pages, but does a great job of giving you almost the entire history of the country in an extremely entertaining way. Since its extremely long, I recommend being at least a portion of the way into the book before getting to SA. Reading while there is a great way to enhance the trip, but having a chunk out of the way in advance is a good idea. Negative: not available on Kindle (like all of Michener's books). Category: History & Culture, Entertainment Buy here.
See the full review, "Historical Tour de Force - The Best of Many Great Books About South Africa (IMO)".
A memoir of an English boy's lonely childhood in South Africa during World War II. Discusses race relations and is a moving, compelling novel. This book (along with The Covenant) were recommended to me as must reads by a South African friend. I would agree. Also a movie (see below). Category: History, Culture, Entertainment
Birds of Prey would never be accused of being a serious work along the lines of my previous recommendations and, although it relies on some stereotypical action-adventure situations and plots, its a very entertaining read. and since the setting is 1600s South Africa, and makes references to places you may come across while in SA, its a fun book to read while visiting the country. Gets bonus points for being written by Wilbur Smith, one of South Africa's most prolific and successful authors. An excerpt on Smith from Publisher's Weekly: "South Africa's master storyteller Wilbur Smith has been writing his exotic historical sagas for so long that he's in danger of being taken for granted and typecast as an author of adventure stories for and about overgrown boys. But there's a lot more to Smith's books than mere blood, thunder, swash, and buckle. He might not be as thoughtful or as philosophical as Patrick O'Brian, but his stories have a wider geographical and chronological range and lots more action." Available on Kindle. Category: Entertainment
The follow up to Birds of Prey. Similar style, entertaining. Nothing too heavy. Here's a good, quick Monsoon review. Not really set in South Africa, but included because chronologically, it lies between Birds of Prey and Blue Horizon. Available on Kindle.
The next installment of Wilbur Smith's Courtney family adventures (after Monsoon), set in colonial South Africa in the early 18th century, follows Jim Courtney, scion of the English shipping and adventuring family seeking their fortune in the Cape of Good Hope colony, administered by the Dutch. Like the other Wilbur Smith recommendations, its an "adventure story for grown boys", but the historical setting of Cape Town and the Cape in general, makes it a fun read if you're visiting the area. A cheezy and entertaining read. Available on Kindle. Category: Adventure, Entertainment
I have not read this book, but plan to. It covers South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that was presided over by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. this will not be an easy book to read, but since the commission played such a vital role in South Africa's history, I think it is necessary to read it. Category: History, Culture, Politics, Serious Subject Matter
Movie with Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline that highlights the horrors of apartheid, based on the true story of the friendship between white newspaper reporter Donald Woods and South African Black activist Stephen Biko. Category: History, Culture, Politics, Adventure
Movie version of novel by Bryce Courtenay. Deals with race relations between Afrikaner and English whites, as well as whites and blacks, by following a boy's coming of age in South Africa. Category: History, Culture, Entertainment
The hollywood version of the incredible, true story of South Africa's victory int he 1995 Rugby World Cup. Nice tie in to the world cup with the sports theme, and the story is truly amazing. Another example of how far thinking Mandela was. Category: Entertainment, Sports, History, Culture
Strange that I'm throwing a sci-fi movie on this list, but I found this movie fascinating and extremely entertaining. How this movie addressed and leveraged complex, historical social issues in South Africa was fascinating to me. And, the overall movie was extremely entertaining. I think this movie is more powerful and enjoyable if you have an understanding of South Africa's history and culture, townships, black homelands, etc., so getting up to speed on the apartheid era may make some sense before viewing it. Category: Entertainment, Allegory (Culture, History, Politics)
Nearly thirty years after the Endless Summer, Bruce Brown follows two young surfers (Pat and Wignut) to top surfing spots around the world. Along the way we see many of the people and locales Bruce visited during the filming of Endless Summer, including South Africa. The return to Cape St. Francis is funny and sad, at the same time. Category: Light Entertainment.
Movie: A lighter look at Southern Africa bush life. Plot from IMDB: A comic allegory about a traveling Bushman who encounters modern civilization and its stranger aspects, including a clumsy scientist and a band of revolutionaries. Category: Light Entertainment.
This movie is actually set in Kenya in 1898, but if you're going to do a game drive or safaris in South Africa, this is a good movie to in advance. Should keep you on your toes. Category: Light Entertainment.