La Guma, Alex

1925–1985
South African writer

Alex la Guma was a South African writer of mixed race. His novels portray the experiences of nonwhites living under APARTHEID, the policy of racial segregation followed in SOUTH AFRICA from 1948 to 1994. The son of a well-known trade union leader in CAPE TOWN, la Guma became politically active at an early age. When he was 22, he joined the Young Communist League and later became chairman of the South African Coloured People’s Organization.

While working as a journalist, la Guma was often harassed and arrested because of his political opinions. In 1962 the government placed him under five-year house arrest and banned his works in South Africa. Four years later he moved to London with his family. In 1969 la Guma won the Afro-Asian Writer’s Association’s Lotus Prize for Literature, and in 1978 the African National Congress named him its chief Caribbean representative. He served in this position in Havana, Cuba, where he died in 1985.

La Guma’s best known works include A Walk in the Night (1962), And a Threefold Cord (1964), The Stone Country (1967), In the Fog of the Season’s End (1972), and Time of the Butcherbird (1979). Most of these novels feature a central character who decides to take political action after events force him to acknowledge the cruelty and injustice of South African society. Although they describe individual suffering, la Guma’s works focus on the need for collective action. (See also Literature.)

La Guma, Alex