South Africa

Nadine Gordimer, a Nobel Prize-winning author famed for her portrayals of South Africa under apartheid, died Sunday, her family said in a statement. She was 90.

Gordimer was considered a modern literary genius, an important chronicler of the injustices of racial segregation along with other white writers such as Athol Fugard and J.M. Coetzee.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Next week, South Africa will go to the polls. It's a milestone election, coming 20 years after the country's first free election in 1994. It is also the first general election since the death of Nelson Mandela last December. For academics Katherine Newman and Ariane De Lannoy, this was an important moment to assess South Africa.

In 1893, in the bustling seaside city of Durban, South Africa — then under British colonial rule — a young lawyer stepped off a ship from India, eager to try his professional luck far away from home. His name was Mohandas Gandhi, and he stayed in that country for more than 20 years before returning home, where he'd make a name for himself as an anti-colonial agitator and social reformer.

Gold is assumed to have eternal, inherent value, but what makes it valuable? And what determines its value now that it's no longer the basis of our currency? In the book Gold: The Race for the World's Most Seductive Metal, journalist Matthew Hart examines the new gold rush driven by investors. He travels to gold mines — including the Mponeng mine in South Africa, where he descended into the deepest man-made hole on Earth — and investigates why gold and crime sometimes go hand in hand.

Roughly three-quarters of South Africa's Jewish population are descendants of Lithuanian immigrants. Of these peasants, townspeople, tradesmen, shopkeepers and intellectuals who fled centuries of persecution and embarked on a passage to Africa, many dreamed of a new land and the promise of new beginnings. Kenneth Bonert's ancestors were part of this diaspora. In his debut novel, written in language as dense and varied as the South African landscape he describes, Bonert delivers a taut, visceral account of a young Jewish boy's African life.

South Africa's commercial capital, Johannesburg, is a mixture of the old Wild West and a complex, modern African hub — at least, that's how crime novelist Jassy Mackenzie describes it. Mackenzie was born across the border, in Zimbabwe, but she moved to Johannesburg — Joburg for short — as a child, and she's a passionate champion of the city.

"I love the energy of Johannesburg," Mackenzie says. "People are open. People communicate. People are friendly in a brash, big-city way, which I love. ... [it's] the New York of South Africa!"

Growing up in apartheid South Africa with widespread state censorship, it was hard to get to know our political leaders. The first time I actually saw a photograph of Nelson Mandela was in high school in the mid-1980s.

A braver classmate had managed to sneak a few grainy images into our school — a full-face, younger Mandela, his fellow Robben Island inmate Walter Sisulu and the South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo.