Lauretta Ngcobo, a feminist writer and activist, was born in Ixopo in 1931, and spent her early adult years in South Africa until she was forced into exile. She was educated at Fort Hare University and was well known as a writer from the early 1950s, although her work was only published in the ’80s and ’90s. She was an inspirational speaker during the 1956 women’s anti-pass march that was held across the country, when it was chanted “When You Strike the Women, You Strike a Rock”.
Together with her husband, Abednego Ngcobo, Treasurer-General of the Pan Africanist Congress, Lauretta and her children fled South Africa, moving from Swaziland to Zambia and in 1963, finally landing up in England where they remained in exile until 1994. Lauretta worked as a teacher in the UK, and pursued her writing and her first novel, Cross of Gold, was published in 1981. Lauretta’s work focused largely on the struggles of the African woman, not only in relation to the inequalities of Apartheid, but also in terms of the confines of traditional Zulu life, which Lauretta saw as oppressive for women. One of her many books, And They Didn’t Die, has been described as “the most enlightened and balanced book” about the history and personal anguish of the African woman.
In 1994 she returned to South Africa after 31 years in exile. Ngcobo was the winner of the Literary Lifetime Achievement Award from the South African Department of Arts and Culture in 2006, and the winner of the 2008 Order of Ikhamanga from The Presidency of South Africa for excellent achievement in the field of literature. She continued her teaching work when she returned home to South Africa, before becoming a member of the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature, where she spent eleven years before retiring in 2008.
Ngcobo shone a torch on the plight of women in Africa, giving voice and visibility to their struggles for many generations to come. She passed away in November 2015 after suffering from a long illness.