In July, 1979 Nadine Godimer’s novel Burger’s Daughter was judged to be indecent and capable of endangering the state of the Republican of South Africa, on the grounds that its story depicted white characters as bad guys and black characters as good guys. In addition, Gordimer was accused of having written a clearly political novel whose theme of fostering black militancy posed a threat to the peaceful co-existence between the separated races of the country.
The centerpiece of this incendiary—if hardly dangerous—novel is an event in the history of Apartheid-era South Africa which stands as a historical turning point: the 1976 Revolt of the Children in which a school uprising in Soweto eventually pitting students armed with stones against police armed with machine guns. That event takes place near the end of the book and acts really more as a device that links the psychological toll of systemic racism in South Africa with the political toll resulting in a new breed of militancy against the system personified in the historical figure of Steven Biko and his tragic end.
Burger’s Daughter ultimately reads like a great dialectical Shakespearian tragedy more than it does the didactic political screed which the racist government tried to frame into being. Nevertheless, less than a month after publication, importation of copies into South Africa became subject an embargo as the novel was officially banned in the country. The ban was lifted a few months later due to increasing international pressure upon the government.
Eventually, the system of Apartheid was dismantled and Nelson Mandela ascended from his tiny jail cell to become the leader of an integrated South Africa. Nadine Gordimer would win the Nobel Prize for Literature with Burger’s Daughter specifically cited as an example of her ability to fuse art and morality. The Guardian included the novel among its list of the top 10 books ever produced in South Africa. Once against book banning was proven to be the most effective way to accomplish exactly the opposite of the intent of the ban and once again the lesson failed to be learned by those who would follow suit in the future.