It is with sadness that we learned of the passing of legendary writer and activist, Ms Lauretta Ngcobo, on Tuesday, 3 November 2015. Mam’ uNgcobo passed away at the advanced age of eighty-four (84) after a long illness.
She was born in the rural area of Ixopo, KwaZulu-Natal province in 1931. She was one of the activists, who participated in the historic Women’s March against pass laws in 1956. She was married to A.B. Ngcobo, a liberation struggle activist and one of the foremost proponents of pan Africanism.
Amidst harassment by the apartheid government’s security forces, she was forced to go into exile with her husband and children in 1963. She first moved to Swaziland and then Zambia, before settling in England where she worked as a teacher for twenty five years. While exiled in England, she became part of the Black British literary movement with her contemporaries such as Buchi Emecheta, where they together provided distinct feminist voices of African women writers in the diaspora. She returned to South Africa at the dawn of the democratic dispensation in 1994, ending over three decades of her life in exile.
It is for her writings that Mam’uNgcobo will be most remembered. She had a penchant for the narratives of the ordinary, the marginalised and vulnerable people of our society. The pinnacle of her writing career is arguably her 1991 novel, And They Didn’t Die, which grapples with the land question and explores the complexities of life in rural areas. This is one of only a few South Africans novels that deal so intimately with the land question and is written from the narrative perspective of women.
The culmination in her writing career was in 2012 with the publication of Prodigal Daughters: Stories of South African Women in Exile. As the editor of the book, Mam’uNgcobo collected unique stories from eighteen South African women who were exiled in various parts of the world and during different periods of our liberation struggle. She helped to chronicle the stories of exiled women and highlighted the crucial role that they played in the liberation struggle.
She remained one of the most celebrated contributors to the South African literary landscape. She was the 2006 recipient of the Literary Lifetime Achievement Award, one of the categories of the prestigious South African Literary Awards. She was also the recipient of the Presidential Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for excellent achievement in the field of literature in 2008.
Mam’ uNgcobo was an inspirational and resilient voice in the arts fraternity. She was always eager to impart her knowledge, share her ideas and help nurture young talents. She was also one of the first legends to be recognised through the Living Legends Legacy Programme, which was launched in August this year. Although she could not attend the launch due to her ailing health, she was supportive of the initiative.
We take this moment to convey our heartfelt condolences to her family, friends and all those who were touched by her life. Her words will continue to inspire generations of readers and writers. We will remember her as a champion of the arts and a woman of power.
For Enquiries contact : Lisa Combrinck at 082 821 4886/ LisaC@dac.gov.za
Issued by the Department of Arts and Culture