The 2021 Sunday Times CNA Literary Awards shortlists

06 June 2021 - 00:00 By Jennifer Platt
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The shortlisted titles for the 2021 Sunday Times CNA Literary Awards.
The shortlisted titles for the 2021 Sunday Times CNA Literary Awards.
Image: Supplied
The 31st non-fiction and the landmark 20th fiction prize will be awarded this year.
The 31st non-fiction and the landmark 20th fiction prize will be awarded this year.
Image: Supplied

Compiled by Jennifer Platt

After a break of a year, when Covid-19 disrupted the awards, we are pleased to announce the finalists for these prestigious prizes that recognise the finest contemporary writers in SA. 



The winner should demonstrate the illumination of truthfulness, especially those forms of it that are new, delicate, unfashionable and fly in the face of power; compassion; elegance of writing; and intellectual
and moral integrity.


Last year was a "missing year" for the South African book world. The Sunday Times literary awards were absent; book launches and festivals were cancelled. In an effort to compensate for the lack of the 2020 awards, we selected a longlist that covered two years, with twice as many books as usual. This literary feast showed us the courage of SA's journalists, the intelligence of our academics, and the heart of our memoirists.

Mark Gevisser's exhaustively researched book places SA firmly in the global moment of burgeoning queer identity. Jacob Dlamini takes the monumental Kruger National Park and shows how little we know about its history, while Andrew Harding peers minutely into the complexities around land, crime and race. Telita Snyckers shocks with her revelations of the venality of the tobacco industry, and the book-burnings that greeted the release of Pieter-Louis Myburgh's important exposé were an appalling reminder of apartheid censorship.

Choosing a shortlist this year was doubly challenging, but we hope doubly rewarding for readers.


Safari Nation: A Social History of the Kruger National Park
Jacob Dlamini (Jacana Media)

Dlamini examines the history of the world-famous reserve and places black people front and centre of the narrative. By exploring the complex and dynamic ways in which black people of varying backgrounds related to the Kruger National Park, he sheds new light on how and why Africa's national parks - often derided by scholars as colonial impositions - survived the end of white rule on the continent.

The Pink Line: Journeys Across the World's Queer Frontiers
Mark Gevisser (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

An exploration of how the conversation around sexual orientation and gender identity has come to divide, and describe, the world in an entirely new way over the first two decades of the 21st century. Gevisser observes that no social movement has brought change so quickly and with such dramatically mixed results. Fresh culture wars have emerged, and a new "Pink Line" has been drawn across the globe.

These Are Not Gentle People
Andrew Harding (Picador Africa)

The distinguished foreign correspondent presents a gripping and layered true story of crime, punishment and redemption. It is the story of the brutal beating and death of two young men and those accused of committing the crime in a small Free State farming town. When a whole community is on trial, he asks, who pays the price?

Gangster State: Unravelling Ace Magashule's Web of Capture
Pieter-Louis Myburgh (Penguin Nonfiction)

Two years on from publication, this explosive investigation is more pertinent than ever as the ANC secretary-general faces expulsion from the party. Myburgh digs deep into Magashule's history of murky dealings from when he was a struggle activist in the 1980s to his powerful rule as premier of the Free State province for nearly a decade, and his rise to one of the ANC's most influential positions.

Dirty Tobacco: Spies, Lies and Mega-Profits
Telita Snyckers (Tafelberg)

Former Sars lawyer Snyckers lays bare the heinous underbelly of the local and international tobacco industry. The illicit trade in tobacco, especially cigarettes, costs the South African economy billions of rands annually through lost tax revenue and she reveals, shockingly, how reputable tobacco companies have - for decades - been complicit in cigarette smuggling.



The winner should be a novel of rare imagination and style, evocative, textured and a tale so compelling as to become an enduring landmark of contemporary fiction.


It is always difficult to select a shortlist in a competition at national level, and this year the fiction prize included books published in both 2019 and 2020. It was also a two-year period in which many of SA's best and brightest novelists happened to publish, from gravitas-rich veterans to brilliant newcomers. It was a daunting but immensely enriching task for the panel, and we finally settled on five excellent novels.

Marguerite Poland is in scathing form in her heartbreaking tale of a young black missionary in the Eastern Cape, while Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu writes about colonialism and toxic masculinity with biting accuracy. Mark Winkler's story is a subtle reflection on collective guilt and individual isolation, and Dawn Garisch's portrayal of the struggle for connection is intelligently and beautifully observed. The youngest author in the line-up is Rešoketšwe Manenzhe with her engaging debut about migrancy and the destruction wreaked on a mixed-race family by the so-called Immorality Act.


Breaking Milk
Dawn Garisch (Karavan Press)

Set on a farm in the Eastern Cape, and taking place over one day, this is a finely wrought meditation on motherhood, not only in personal and human terms, but also with regards to ourselves as destructive children of the earth.

The History of Man
Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu (Penguin Fiction)

A brilliant portrait of a white, male colonialist seen through the eyes of a black woman writer. Emil Coetzee was a supporting character in Ndlovu's prize-winning predecessor The Theory of Flight, and here she places him in the centre of the story, examining the forces that created this "man of empire".

Rešoketšwe Manenzhe (Jacana Media)

Taking place more than 100 years ago, this is a highly original novel about migrancy that incorporates myth and ritual and the stories of extraordinary ordinary women. On this journey, someone will get lost, someone will give up and turn back, and someone may go all the way to the end.

A Sin of Omission
Marguerite Poland (Penguin Fiction)

A wrenching, deeply felt story about Stephen Malusi Mzamane, a young Anglican priest, trained in England but now marooned in a rundown mission in Fort Beaufort. He is battling the prejudices of colonial society, and the church itself, when he is called to his mother's rural home to inform her of his elder brother's death.

Due South of Copenhagen
Mark Winkler (Umuzi)

A skilled examination of memory and culpability. Max Fritz lives quietly in a small Lowveld town, the editor of the local newspaper. Seemingly contented, he is shadowed by his childhood, and by the border war he was forced to take part in. When news of a boyhood friend reaches him, the past rears up painfully.

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