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Lauretta Ngcobo (1931 – )

The Order of Ikhamanga in

Lauretta Ngcobo (1931 – ) Awarded for:
Her excellent achievements in the field of literature and through her literary work championing the cause of gender equality in South Africa.
Profile of Lauretta Ngcobo

Celebrated author and essayist Lauretta Ngcobo, née Gwina, was born in KwaZulu-Natal in 1931.

Ngcobo, who wrote one of the rare novels in English by a black African woman in the 1970s, was a recipient of the South African Literary Awards’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.

The author of books, many academic papers and prose pieces, Ngcobo grew up in rural Ixopo. In her acclaimed novel And they Didn’t Die, published in 1990, she praises the rural women as unsung heroines who bore the burdens of a hard life made more difficult by apartheid.

The Voice Literary Supplement described it as a “brilliant chronicle” that explores what happens when women ask questions “about cattle and the land, about female power, about tradition, about violence, about sex”.

Ngcobo attended Inanda Seminary and gained a BA degree with teaching qualifications from the University of Fort Hare.

After teaching at various schools, she married AB Ngcobo, a founder executive member of the Pan Africanist Congress, who was detained following the Sharpeville massacre of 1960.

Ngcobo fled South Africa with her husband and children in 1963, fearing imminent arrest, and went first to Swaziland and Zambia before settling in England.

She worked in England as a teacher for 25 years. She began to write soon after leaving South Africa, but did not publish her first book, Cross of Gold, until 1981.

Written in the 1970s, the book is a reflection of how Ngcobo came to live in exile. She recalls how it lay in a drawer for many years before it was published. The book was promptly banned in South Africa.

In 1987, Ngcobo published Let It Be Told. It recounts the turbulent thoughts of black female writers in Britain in the 1980s.

Ngcobo has been published in various anthologies as a prose writer and has been invited to introduce the works of other southern African female writers. Ngcobo says writing for children, as in her 1994 Fikile Learns to Like other People, presents her with the greatest challenges as a writer.

In 1994, Ngcobo returned to South Africa with the advent of democracy.

After a short spell teaching, she was elected to the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Legislature, which she served for some 11 years before retiring in 2008.

By the sweat of her brow, Lauretta Ngcobo broke free of the chains that bound her being, both as a black woman in apartheid South Africa and as a black African, becoming one of the most prolific intellectuals and writers in South Africa.

Ngcobo stays in Durban.