Alex La Guma

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Alex La Guma (20 February 1924 – 11 October 1985) was a South African novelist, leader of the South African Coloured People’s Organisation (SACPO) and a defendant in the Treason Trial, whose works helped characterise the movement against the apartheid era in South Africa. La Guma's vivid style, distinctive dialogue, and realistic, sympathetic portrayal of oppressed groups have made him one of the most notable South African writers of the 20th century. La Guma was awarded the 1969 Lotus Prize for Literature.[1]


La Guma was born in District Six, Cape Town. He was the son of James La Guma,[2] a leading figure in both the Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union and the South African Communist Party.[3]

La Guma attended Trafalgar High School in District Six in Cape Town.[4] After graduating from a technical school in 1945, he was an active member of the Plant Workers Union of the Metal Box Company. He was fired after organizing a strike, and he became active in politics, joining the Young Communists League in 1947 and the South African Communist Party in 1948.

In 1956 he helped organise the South Africa representatives who drew up the Freedom Charter, and consequently he was one of the 156 accused at the Treason Trials that same year. He published his first short story, "Nocturn", in 1957. In 1960, he began writing for New Age, a progressive newspaper, and in 1962 he was placed under house arrest. Before his five-year sentence could elapse, A No Trial Act was passed and he and his wife were put into solitary confinement. On their release from prison, they returned to house arrest. He, along with his wife Blanche and their two children, went into exile to the UK in 1966.[5] La Guma spent the rest of his life in exile.

He was chief representative of the African National Congress in the Caribbean at the time of his death Havana, Cuba, in 1985. In 1984, he was appointed Officer of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture.

Although La Guma was an inspiration of and inspired by the growing resistance to apartheid, notably the Black Consciousness Movement, his connection to these groups was indirect.

Notable works[edit]

La Guma's works include the following:

  • A Walk in the Night and Other Stories (1962), Ibadan, Nigeria: Mbari. Featuring: 1) "A Walk in the Night"; 2) "Tattoo Marks and Nails"; 3) "At the Portagee's"; 4) "The Gladiators"; 5) "Blankets"; 6) "A Matter of Taste"; 7) "The Lemon Orchard"
  • And a Threefold Cord (1964), (East) Berlin, GDR: Seven Seas Publishers.
  • Quartet: Four Voices from South Africa (1963), London: Heinemann. Stories by Alex La Guma, James Matthews, Richard Rive, and Alf Wannenburgh. Featuring: 1) "Out of Darkness"; 2) "Slipper Satin"; 3) "A Glass of Wine"; 4) "Nocturne" by La Guma.
  • The Stone-Country (1967), (East) Berlin, GDR: Seven Seas Publishers.
  • In the Fog of the Seasons' End (1972), London: Heinemann.
  • A Soviet Journey (1978), Moscow: Progress Publishers.
  • Time of the Butcherbird (1979), London: Heinemann.


  1. ^ Parekh, Pushpa Naidu; Jagne, Siga Fatima (1998). Postcolonial African writers: a bio-bibliographical critical sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 269. ISBN 978-0-313-29056-5. Retrieved 25 November 2011.
  2. ^ Alex La Guma, SA History Online
  3. ^ Jimmy La Guma SA History Online
  4. ^ Obituary, retrieved 13 August 2014
  5. ^ "Novels by South Africa's Dickens given new life". GroundUp. 6 July 2015. Retrieved 6 July 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Kathleen M. Balutansky. The Novels of Alex La Guma: The Representation of a Political Conflict. Three Continents Press (1990)
  • Roger Field. Alex La Guma: A Literary and Political Biography. Woodbridge, UK: James Currey (2010)
  • Chandramohan, Balasubramanyam, A Study in Trans-Ethnicity in Modern South Africa: The Writings of Alex La Guma, 1925-1985. Lewiston, New York and Lampeter, Wales: Mellen Research University Press, 1992.
  • Tribute to Alex La Guma in Rixaka, cultural journal of ANC, No. 3/86
  • Dr. Christopher J. Lee - A Soviet Journey: A Critical Annotated Edition (Lexington Books, 2017)

External links[edit]