The Centre for African Literary Studies joins other South Africans and especially the writers, activists and women of this country to pay tribute to Lauretta Ngcobo who died on 3 November 2015. She was an author of note, expressing through her novels and essays the plight of rural women in South Africa of the 1950-1980s and beyond and powerfully representing their struggle for recognition and humanity in their rural context especially during the apartheid regime.
Ngcobo was born in 1931 and grew up in the rural community of Ixopo, which she describes very poignantly in her last novel, And they didn’t die. She obtained a BA degree at Fort Hare. She married Abdnego Bhekabantu Ngcobo, treasurer-general of the PAC, thereby allying herself with the struggle for freedom and equality in South Africa. She was a key speaker in the 1956 women’s anti-pass march. Ngcobo and her family lived in exile for over 30 years, in Swaziland, Zambia and England, returning to South Africa after the changes of 1994. She taught both in the UK and back in South Africa. She served on the KwaZulu-Natal legislature until 2008.
The main thrust of her writing was her struggle for gender equality and she depicted the struggles of rural women with tremendous power. Although she was already writing in the 1950’s her work was only published in the 1980’s. Her passion for the rights of women and especially the emancipation of rural women ensure that she portrayed what a deep impression her childhood years made on her, how deprived they were by the 1913 and later Land Acts, how desperately damaged the mothers of our society were by patriarchy and apartheid and how valiantly the women struggled to support their children and maintain their homes in the absence of the men to the cities.
Her best known works are Cross of gold (1981), Let it be told: black women writers in Britain (1987), And they didn’t die (1990) and Fikile learns to like people and Fikili Learns to like people. She also wrote children’s books which she found particularly challenging. In 2006 she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Literary Award and 2008 she received a Presidential award: The National Order of Ikhamanga which recognises excellence in literature, music, journalism and sport.
The Centre for African Literary Studies at UKZN in Pietermaritzburg has copies of several titles by Ngcobo which are on display in the foyer at this time. This author, teacher, politician, feminist and great human being has made a valuable contribution to the literature of South Africa. Especially, she has raised awareness of the hardships of rural women and their plea for liberation.