A political book penned by a political and gender activist. “And They Did Not Die” is a must in assisting to contextualize the present by comprehending true history. Because people, Black South Africans, cannot afford to be apolitical.

The book evoked in me a blend of resentment and sadness. The type of feeling you get whilst reading the stories of Biko, Sobukwe, Mahlangu, Mashinini, and Hani. The struggle song “Senzenina” constantly popped to mind.

To sum up a black life, Ngcobo wrote in page 154 …

“Look Jezile, it’s straight forward. The reason why Siyalo has no job is political; the reason why he could not make use of the land to raise crops to feed his family is political; the reason why all your cows have died of drought is political. We have no grass while Corlett has so much – that is political; the reason why he has such a large farm and hundreds of cows is political”

The setting is a village in Sabelweni homeland in rural Natal. The era is apartheid South Africa 1950 to 1980. Ngcobo through Jezile Majola, her strong independent, intuitive female central character, relates of the trials and tribulations experienced by Black rural people, specifically women, in their ordinary lives as they grapple with race and gender issues. The women find themselves between a rock and a hard place and are exposed to man made, and suffering through natural phenomenon.

In the well documented narration Ngcobo covers three generations of women. Their hassle with oppressive traditional customs and with the atrocities of apartheid. The story though fictitious, covers real time historical occurrences, viz, the migrant labour system, the separate development act, the 1959 beer hall protest, the defiance pass campaign, the effects of the Land Act of 1913, the 1936 Native Land and Trust Act, and the Bantu Authorities Act of 1953.

Ngcobo draws from her lived experiences in rural Natal. Also from her life in exile. Like Sol Plaatjie in “Mhudi”, Meriam Tladi in “Muriel At Metropolitan”, Nomavenda Mathiane in “Eyes In The Night”, Bessie Head in “When Clouds Gather” and Sindiwe Magona in “Mother To Mother”, Ngcobo portray influential and instrumental female protagonist that set the record straight, that basadi played a major role in national politics. Particularly the rural woman because many a political book urbanizes the struggle and excludes those in the rural areas who actually had it worse.

A classical and historically loaded treasure that needs to form part of our household libraries.


Lauretta Ngcobo (13 September 1931 – 3 November 2015) was a South African novelist and essayist. After being in exile between 1963 and 1994 — in Swaziland, then Zambia and finally England, where she taught for 25 years — she returned to South Africa and lived in Durban. Her writings between the 1960s and early 1990s have been described as offering “significant insights into the experiences of Black women of apartheid’s vagaries”. As a novelist she is best known for And They Didn’t Die (1990), set in 1950s South Africa and portraying “the particular oppress ion of women who struggle to survive, work the land and maintain a sense of dignity under the apartheid system while their husbands seek work in the mines and cities.”

Title: And They Didn’t Die
Author: Lauretta Ngcobo
Published: University Of KwaZulu Natal Press (1999)
Genre: Literary fiction
Pages: 282
ISBN: 978-1558-612-13-6


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