I was ecstatic to receive a review copy of Writing as the Practice of Freedom. I had already read Lauretta Ngcobo’s second novel a few years back and had invested in her last anthology, The Prodigal Daughters (2012). The book not only made me feel up-close and personal with Ngcobo but it also afforded me an opportunity to reminisce on the works of Mariama Ba, Meriam Tlali, Ama Ata Aidoo, Buchi Emecha and Bessie Head just to mention a few. I was also left with a deep yearning to one day be able to read Ngcobo’s debut novel Cross Of Gold (1981).
Lauretta Ngcobo: Writing as the Practice of Freedom was a commissioned project by the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences under their Voices of Liberation series. The objectives of the series is to give a platform to voices of freedom and to have broader conversations on the matters of liberation.
Dr Barbara Boswell is a suitable candidate to have been chosen to run with project Lauretta Ngcobo. Her passion is palpable in all her works that include Lauretta Ngcobo. Dr Boswell and Ngcobo found each other when the former was doing her PhD on South African Black female novelists who write in English. She had the liberty to interview and spend some time with Ngcobo. Ngcobo’s second novel, And They Did Not Die (1990) is taught at the University of Cape Town where Dr Boswell is the head in the English department. Ngcobo was also part of Boswell’s book titled, And I Wrote My Story Anyway. Boswell has also commissioned some of Ngcobo’s work to certain publications and journals. I’m hoping just like Siphiwo Mahala did with Can Themba’s works, and Sabata Mpho Mokae did with Sol T Plaatjie, Boswell becomes a lifetime scholar of Lauretta Ngcobo.
In Lauretta Ngcobo: Writing as the Practice of Freedom, the life and work of teacher, freedom fighter, political analyst, literary critic, feminist, parliamentarian, and author is covered under these three categories: her voice, her legacy and her life. The book covers her years in SA before exile, years in exile and her years post-democracy .
History is often told from the vantage of whomever is in power or is relating it. The fact that Ngcobo was a PAC member, and then IFP could be the reason why she remains unsung heroine. A lot of South Africans are not aware that she was part of the 1956 women’s match at the Union Buildings. Also that she was friends with the founder and first president of PAC, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe.
Every aspect of Black female life is an encounter with patriarchy and racism. While growing up and studying at Inanda Seminary, Ngcobo nearly had to drop out of school, because the notion of an educated Black girl child was still perceived as taboo. Patriarchy was prevalent at Fort Hare University, where she was one of about 30 female students. Her job in Pretoria was also a taste of overt racism of separate cups.
The life of Ngcobo demonstrates how women were not mere supporting acts to their spouses during the struggle.
Although her husband AB Ngcobo was a renowned PAC executive, Ngcobo took independent decisions. In 1963, she took a necessary and important decision to flee SA and leave her children and husband, who was a political prisoner at the time. She fled to Swaziland(present eSwatini) and Zambia then settled in the UK later. Had she not done that, her kids would have had both parents in jail simultaneously. The children would not have had an opportunity to join her at a later stage.
Erasure of Black female voices in literature is an on-going sad reality. It was prevalent and overt in the 1970s as books were banned, and authors arrested and often maimed. Ngcobo had to destroy some of her work before she fled SA in 1963. She further experienced it first-hand when her publisher took forever with the final product of her first novel, and then proceeded to sabotage the book by not making it readily available even when it was in demand.
Lauretta Ngcobo: Writing as the Practice of Freedom is an essential body of work about a dynamic and selfless teacher, scholar, politician, literary critic, and author. Reading it, and all of Lauretta Ngcobo’s work is tantamount to reading about South Africa and herself. It is literature that every household should have at their disposal.