Laurretta Ngcobo’s Prodigal Daughters is a well written compilation in which seventeen different South African heroines share deeply personal accounts of some of their memories in exile. The book brings into sharp focus the critically important role played by countless women in the struggle for South Africa’s freedom. Not merely as supporting cast for their commonly celebrated male counterparts but as equally worthy freedom fighters in their own right!
Whilst all these brave and mostly unsung heroines approach the discussion of life for women in exile from different angles, there are common themes across all their stories: a clear recollection of the painful realization that one has to leave her motherland or face the real possibility of death, courage in the face of adversity and constantly being confronted by patriarchy in all its ugliness:
“Each day I learnt and discovered something new. The most significant of these lessons, which has continued throughout the years, was finding out just how global, deep-seated and entrenched patriarchy was.”
- Brigalia Hlophe Bam
Besides reminding us that the struggle for liberation could not have and indeed was not sustained without the indispensable role of women, the book reveals just how difficult and complicated the never ending quest for reintegration is for some of these women upon their much anticipated return into the South Africa they imagined and fought for over decades:
“Having left the country at a young age, I did not fully appreciate the nuanced social norms that would make my relatives, whom I knew only through photographs, treat me as a guest and not as a South African. To my dismay, the sentimental idea that I would come ‘home’ and settle among my people and be part of the liberation struggle was no longer viable. I was a foreigner in my own country.”
- Mohau Pheko
Prodigal Daughters gives a voice to not just the seventeen women profiled in the book but to all the scores of brave South African female freedom fighters, whose individual stories are not just forgotten but actually untold.