July's People

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July's People
First edition cover (RSA)
AuthorNadine Gordimer
CountrySouth Africa
GenreAlternate history
PublisherRaven/Taurus (RSA)
Jonathan Cape (UK)
Viking Press (US)
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)

July's People is a 1981 novel by the South African writer Nadine Gordimer. It is set in a near future version of South Africa where Apartheid is ended through a civil war.[1] Gordimer wrote the book before the end of apartheid as her prediction of how it would end. The book was notably banned in South Africa after its publication, and later under the post-Apartheid government.[2]


The novel is set during a fictional civil war in which black South Africans have violently overturned the system of apartheid.[3] The story follows the Smales, a liberal White South African family who were forced to flee Johannesburg to the native village of their black servant, July. Maureen tries working with the women in the fields, digging up leaves and roots. Afterward, she goes to see July, who is working on the bakkie.

When July says she should not work with the women, she asks if he fears she will tell his wife about Ellen. He angrily asserts that she can only tell Martha that he has always been a good servant. Maureen, frightened, realizes that the dignity she thought she had always conferred upon him was actually humiliating to him. He informs her that he and the Smales have been summoned to the chief's village. Though July has authority in his village, they still must ask the chief's permission to stay. Maureen struggles with her new subservience to July.

After Gina goes to play with Nyiko and Bam goes with Victor and Royce to fish, a helicopter with unidentifiable markings flies over the village.


Anne Tyler, writing for The New York Times, praised the novel, saying that Gordimer "has outdone herself" and that the work was "So flawlessly written that every one of its events seems chillingly, ominously possible".[3] In his book Frantz Fanon and the Future of Cultural Politics: Finding Something Different, Anthony C. Alessandrini referred to Tyler's take on the novel as "maddening" given that the "events" she describes result in the fall of Apartheid.[4]


July's People was temporarily banned from schools in Gauteng Province, in South Africa for a brief period in 2001.[5] The government of Gauteng province provided the following reason for the ban:

the subject matter is questionable ... the language that is used is not acceptable, as it does not encourage good grammatical practices ... the reader is bombarded with nuances that do not achieve much ... any condemnation of racism is difficult to discover - so the story comes across as being deeply racist, superior and patronising.[5]

The book was banned alongside other books, including several Shakespeare plays, among them Julius Caesar and Othello.


  1. ^ Erritouni, Ali (Winter 2006). "Apartheid Inequality and Postapartheid Utopia in Nadine Gordimer's "July's People"". Research in African Literatures. 37 (4): 68–84.
  2. ^ "South Africa reinstates authors". BBC News. 22 April 2001. Retrieved 10 June 2009.
  3. ^ a b Anne Tyler (7 June 1981). "South Africa after Revolution - Anne Tyler". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 17 May 2015.
  4. ^ Alessandrini, Anthony (2014). Frantz Fanon and the Future of Cultural Politics: Finding Something Different. Lexington Books.
  5. ^ a b Cartwright, Justin (19 April 2001). "Stranger than fiction". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 October 2016.