Programme Director, the Ngcobo Family and Relatives, Ma-Afrika, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are here to celebrate the life of a mother, sister, freedom fighter, activist in the movement to win political, economic and social equality for women; an author and educator par excellence.
Dr. Lauretta Nozizwe Ngcobo was born in Ixopo, KwaZULU-Natal on 13th September 1931. On a personal note, my wife has captured it in the book PRODIGAL DAUGHTERS – Stories Of South African Women In Exile which reads: “In Zambia we stayed for about a year with Sisi Lauretta, A.B. Ngcobo’s wife, and their three daughters [Zabantu, Nomkhosi and Zikhethiwe]. This was along with our daughter [Mohau Pheko]. I had just collected her from Swaziland. We had great times there and Lauretta was a good friend.”
She opened her home to us. She introduced us to many people. Our settling as refugees in Zambia was made easy because of Lauretta. My children would not have been a success, if we did not have a person like Dr. Lauretta Ngcobo. We will cherish the Ngobo’s forever.
In Swaziland, our country of first refuge, we had the blessing of being visited by Lauretta’s mother, Mme Rosa Fisekile Gwina. She was a very motherly person to all of us exiles. Her visit was after the birth of Khethiwe whom Lauretta had named Badingile. It means they are prodigals. The honourable elder was not impressed and asked: “You want my children to be exiles and refugees forever?” and continued: “No, this is not a good name.” Like us of old African stock, you do not argue with your parents. So we have Khethiwe today – meaning “The Chosen Daughters Of Africa,” NOT prodigals. This name came from Lauretta’s mother.
Lauretta was conferred with an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature by the Durban University of Technology in April 2014. I attended this happy occasion for her with her family. For many years in her life she was an educator. She obtained her B.A. degree and Diploma in Education at Fort Hare University. This University was then in its glorious days and pomp, academically.
It was an excelling African University. Fort Hare students were highly priced and all of them excelled in their spheres of endeavour and became great leaders and servants of their people. Lauretta acknowledged she owed her education to her hard-working widowed mother who was a teacher by profession.
Dr. Lauretta Noziwe Ngcobo was a woman with tenacity of purpose and pertinacity of will. She was focussed on what she wanted to do with her life. She turned her dreams into reality. She loved reading and writing. In Lusaka, Zambia we both contributed articles to Azania News, a publication of the Pan Africanist Congress edited by the late Z.B. Molete and later by Edwin L. Makoti. Her own husband Abednego Bekabantu Ngcobo was one of the founders of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) and its first Treasurer-General. The Organisation of African Unity, the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement recognised the PAC as liberation movement in South Africa.
Dr. Lauretta Ngcobo is author of four books: CROSS OF GOLD, LET IT BE TOLD, THEY DIDN’T DIE and FIKILE LEARNS TO LIKE OTHER PEOPLE. She was a winner of the Literary Life Award from the Department of Arts and Culture in 2006. She was an unstoppable patriot. She wanted to see her people liberated from poverty, ignorance and land dispossession. Her exile life and her persecution by the apartheid colonialist regime testify to this fact.
What most people do not know or deliberately suppress is that on 9th August 1956, Lauretta Ngcobo was among thousands of women who marched to Pretoria that day, to protest the extension of pass laws to African women. In this historic march, Lauretta was with women such as Lillian Mmasediba Ngoyi, Victoria Mehlomakhulu and Sonti Madi. Lauretta’s African name is Nozizwe. It is a perfect name for the role she has played in her life to Africa’s Cause.
Lauretta was a brilliant woman, a brave woman and a courageous woman. The book she edited, PRODIGAL DAUGHTERS – Stories Of South African Women In Exile reveals all this. I had discussed with her the possibility of her doing a similar book on the women whose husbands were imprisoned. Their experiences and the suffering they endured bringing up the children single-handedly. We know what men suffered in Robben Island and in other apartheid colonial prisons. What about their wives? She has left this challenge to us. She has warned, “If you do not write your history, history will write you off.” This coincides with what that great African writer Chinua Achebe has also expressed: “Until the lions [and lionesses] have their own history, the history of the hunt will glorify the hunters.” Indeed, so far, the history of colonialism has glorified colonialists and completely ignored the holocaust and genocide they inflicted on Africa’s people.
Lauretta Ngcobo’s life demonstrates that she was a true daughter of Africa whom historical necessity had called upon to contend under the scotching sun and stern realities of life with its vicissitudes. She was a harbinger of the coming new social order for restoring Africa to her lost power and glory. She was well read. She was fully informed historically about the nature of colonial struggle in this country. She understood the tragedy of the Berlin Act of 26 February 1885 through which seven European countries stole the whole Continent of Africa and its riches, except for modern Ethiopia. Lauretta understood the consequences of a British Statute called the Union of South Africa Act 1909.
Dr. Pixley ka Isaka Seme rightly pointed out that it excluded the African owners of this country. Lauretta appreciated the role that was played by the royal architects of Thababosiu, Isandlwana, Amalinde, Keiskamahoek etc, to prevent land dispossession of their people. She digested the significance of why Sol Plaatje, Dr. John Dube, Walter B. Rubusana and two others went to England to present a petition to King George V in July 1914. Among other things this petition read, “That the natives (Africans) be put into possession of land in proportion to their numbers and on the same conditions as the white race.” That was over 100 years ago. Nothing has happened in South Africa to this day, on the equitable distribution of land and its resources. The Native Land Act 1913 is entrenched in the very constitution that was supposed to do what the leaders of the South African Native National Congress demanded from their British colonisers in 1914. This colonial law seized the very asset which was central to the lives of African people and has rendered them massively destitute.
By being a founding member of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, Dr. Lauretta Nozizwe Ngcobo struggled for a better political deal than the 1994 settlement. She and her husband A.B. Ngcobo and their colleagues like Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe may have not reached their goal. But it is the goal to reach if this country must attain economic liberation and social emancipation of the majority African population that presently suffer massive poverty, unemployment and lack of resources to access education.
Indeed, the tragedy of life does not lie in not reaching our goals, but in having no goals to reach. It is not a calamity to die with ideals unfulfilled, but it is a calamity to have no ideals to fulfil. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars. But it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach. Dr. Lauretta Nozizwe Ngcobo had stars to reach.
Hamba kakuhle M-Afrika Omhle. Izwe Lethu! IAfrika!
By Dr. Motsoko Pheko
The speech was delivered at a memorial service of Dr. Lauretta Nozizwe Ngcobo held at on 10 November 2015, in Johannesburg, Sophiatown.