Timely social justice story with family at its heart

Some of my favorite books are set in South Africa, and this one joins their ranks. Schutte’s style is clear, but evocative and rich too. Like Steinbeck writing about his native California, you can feel the author’s deeply attended-to connection to the setting: her home town and country. And the people there.

Schutte handles a difficult subject with poise and clarity. It’s clear that she’s carefully researched and interviewed for the book, as well as challenged her own memory and assumptions, and it brings the story of her mother and family’s life within apartheid a lot of authority and realness. As readers, we get the sense that we’re going through the process of finding hidden motives and uncovering of truths alongside her. The result is an authentic, moving, and even useful stories of practicality, bravery, and resistance to the status quo.

I really couldn’t put this one down. Can’t wait for more from Schutte.

– Lauren,

The human side of apartheid life

Watching the news coverage of apartheid from the UK in the 80s and 90s, it was hard to get your head round the scale of the issue – there were millions of people affected, and all we ever saw were crowds and protests and the political leaders. This book shows what it was like for ordinary people, including the white South Africans who sleepwalked into the whole situation. It suddenly feels much more real when it’s a story about a segregated small town with a ghetto just a few hundred yards up the hill. And the main story – of a social worker trying to deal with the vast inequalities in her neighbourhood – shows how an ordinary person can do extraordinary things when the circumstances demand it. Powerful stuff.

– UK reader,

There are limits to what we can know about the past, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying to find out. 
Fascinating and well-written look at life in pre- and post-apartheid South Africa, from a white woman who left as a child and came back many years later to understand her native country and its past. With a journalist’s eye, the author set out to interview her parents, their colleagues, their domestic employees, police officers, activists, government officials, all in an attempt to understand what happened.There’s no doubt that the Afrikaner National Party policies were as hateful as any the world has ever seen. At the same time, it’s worth noting that many countries have shameful aspects to their pasts, and that all societies struggle with “Truth & Reconciliation.” Schutte’s story ultimately has meaning far beyond South Africa; it shows us the boundaries of what we can ever really know about the past, the folly of trying, and the urgency to do so anyway.
– John S. Abrahams,


A must-read on South Africa

“For the People” is an effortless read and one that I enjoyed immensely. It treads a very delicate, fine line – informed by intricately-researched sources – and does so without judgment, unnecessary deviation or bias.

I’d visited Johannesburg only once on business in 2000 – and then just for a week – but never gained more than a fleeting (but nonetheless intriguing) glimpse of South Africa’s post-apartheid era. I needed to know more.

(In addition to this wonderful book I have three other tomes that I bought to help give me an insight into what actually happened and why.

The first is the 750+ pages-long Mandela biography, “Long Walk to Freedom”; another the 585+ pages of Anthony Sampson’s authorised Mandela biography; the third is “The Bang-Bang Club”, highly recommended by a South African photographer friend, David Sandison.

Frankly, I found the first two impenetrable and intimidating; given that I was obliged to digest and memorise the names of a legion of Zulu tribes before even getting to the first chapter. Too much, too soon.

Nevertheless, as such, each of these books remain – much to my shame – only partially read. In fairness, the much more recently purchased “The Bang-Bang Club” had to take second place to Anelia’s insightful and easy read. In every sense – and more so for reading this – it’s next on my list.)

So, I am absolutely delighted that “For the People” took precedence over all of them.

Here is a quite remarkable, considerate and considered book; beautifully written in a style to which I can only aspire. It’s deceptively simple in the way that it builds and links; it offers just the right amount of explanation (for example, the crucial, upfront, distinction between “blacks”, “whites” and “coloureds” a very necessary, considerate and thoughtful addition for anyone not on the inside. This kind of detail seduced this reader to want to know more.) More than anything, its major achievement is that it pieces together quite a remarkable jigsaw puzzle whose entire picture is only revealed within the final few words.

All this is achieved via a multi-layered narrative that’s as informative as it is powerfully emotional. Furthermore, it’s a book that paints a picture with amazing clarity.

And its denouement left me in tears.

Quite simply put: it’s one of the best things that I’ve read in years. I thoroughly recommend it – either as a balanced, objective insight into South Africa, or purely as a brilliantly researched and superbly written book in its own right. In truth it’s actually both.

And finally, did I mention the heroine? Always at the centre is Anelia’s remarkable, tenacious, amazing mother – Owéna – supported by a comparatively silent – but phenomenally supportive – hero: Anelia’s father, Theron.

Yet it’s far, far more than that; I now feel much better informed about what actually went on in South Africa. And how. And why. Ultimately, it left me feeling hope for the future for everyone concerned.

More please Anelia! And soon.
– Michael Darby,


A fascinating read

The small town of Knysna didn’t go unscathed through apartheid’s racists laws and oppression. Here is a true life experience backed by thorough research and honest writing. The author accurately describes the conditions in which many South Africans had to live during apartheid as well as the complex situation her mother found herself in. A must-read for everyone who has ever visited the lovely town of Knysna in the Garden Route as well as for those who are planning to visit this beautiful part of South Africa.

– A reader on


Excellent read, an accurate reflection of a troubled era in our country’s history. I think the structure of the book works well, with the chapters alternating between Owena’s story and Anelia’s experiences and viewpoints in doing the research. Owena is a truly special person and her tireless efforts have made a difference to so many people. She is an inspiration.

A reader on

Official review of For the People:
This book tells the true life stories of life for the South African people during apartheid. It follows social worker Owena Schutte’s struggle to help the underprivileged people and all that she saw and experienced as a social worker during apartheid. The book is told in the past and the present and we hear about the stories directly from the people who suffered through these hard times for colored and black South Africans. How they had to live in squalor and without so many basic necessities, how they were moved around and evicted from their houses because of the color of their skin.
This is a book filled with lots of heartache and joy as many of the people in this book overcame the hardships they had to live through and got a chance to tell their story.I really enjoyed this book and struggled to put it down. This book intrigued me and I could not wait to hear how everyone mentioned [in the book’s] lives turned out. As a South African I have heard of apartheid and of the pain and suffering the people in our country suffered, but this book really made me realize how bad it actually was for some. The book has a great story line that is filled with so much information directly from those that were there at the time when apartheid was at its worst. The book was so full of the emotions of love, hatred, heartache and moments of happiness. It made me realize how grateful I should be for all that I have in life, because the black and colored South Africans during Apartheid had to live with the bare minimum.
This book gets to the heart of the story and shows us what an amazing person Owena is, how she tried to help all those in need without expecting anything in return.I loved the author’s writing style, I think she knows how to write a good book that captivates and keeps an audience entertained right to the end. The author is Owena’s daughter so she got to hear the story first hand from her mother’s point of view and how she personally saw all the pain that was experienced. Owena was the people’s hero, she was their Nobantu.I would definitely recommend this book to all, it was a good read and worth the time it takes to read it. I would rate this book a 4 out of 4.


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