Country: South Africa
Why We Love Her: Mama Noni was a great woman of firsts: the first black South African woman to publish a book in London; the first black woman to write an autobiography in South Africa; the first black woman to be editor of a British literary journal (The Strand). Wally Mongane Serote, a writer and one of her contemporaries, said of her, “We men, she said, did not know how to relate to her (Noni). She was a woman living far ahead of our times.”
“… in the same boat as those whom we Southerners call slightingly ‘liberals’, meaning white people whose brain and sense, education or conviction tell them that there’s no reason not to like us blacks; but whose emotions are rooted, as evidently mine were too, in an instinctive revulsion from a way of life more primitive than their own.” – Drawn In Colour, Noni Jabavu
Being South African but growing up in the UK, she occupied the awkward double role of an insider and an outsider. Especially when she visited and later returned to her home country, South Africa. She wrote about these experiences in a poignant way, covering the nature of tragedy, and unsparingly, the behaviour of herself and others in South African society in Drawn In Colour. There was great interest in her book internationally and it was quickly translated into many other languages. Coupled with The Ochre People which she wrote later, these books are classics of that era.
“What ruined the Boer was when the Englishman, having vanquished and thrashed him in war, handed the whip to the loser with that 1910 Act of the Union of South Africa.” – Drawn In Colour, Noni Jabavu
Her examination of the peculiar situations South Africans find themselves in paved the way for many of the writers in the South African literary canon. The issues of identity, travel, alienation and heritage she described are as relevant as they were then as they are now and her writing has aged well, offering valuable insights into our modern times.