Struggle widow Blanche la Guma now treated like a leper

BLANCHE La Guma worked diligently as a midwife in Cape Town and, when the apartheid authorities made life difficult for her and her family, she took the same caring nature into her work in London hospitals.

BLANCHE La Guma worked diligently as a midwife in Cape Town and, when the apartheid authorities made life difficult for her and her family, she took the same caring nature into her work in London hospitals.

All the while, she was helping give birth to another baby, one very close to her heart - the new South Africa.

The delivery of this political baby took her many years, costing her, in the interim, her own happiness.

After surviving three previous heart attacks, her husband, the famed novelist Alex La Guma, would finally succumb to the fourth in exile in Cuba.

The many years she could have spent with Alex she instead channelled towards the birth of a free South Africa, where it would not matter if she was a Cape coloured or of whatever hue.

The title comes from her many travels and travails helping deliver children in poor communities in the Cape of the apartheid era.

Blanche knew little more than her work as a nurse, being a dutiful wife and mother and the struggle to end apartheid.

Outside keeping the home fires burning, she endured long days of loneliness as Alex was away on ANC duty, leaving her to raise their two boys virtually as a single parent. Today, Barto and Eugene are grown men with their own families.

If "Struggle Widows" is to find meaning anywhere, it is in the life of those like Blanche la Guma, who are today treated like lepers by the South African Communist Party, to which they gave their life.

It is inexcusable.

Maybe the young energetic pen pushers at the ANC who can't find anything for her to do - even washing dishes - do so out of respect for the elderly. But being ostracised by the SACP is a kick in the teeth for one who gave so much for the party.

Told by the husband in his award-winning books, their toil to end apartheid is almost romanticised. In Blanche's own words, it is a heart-wrenching account.

Yes, maybe, as in the words of the final chapter: "The next generation must now take on the work" but being put out to pasture like a dairy product long past its sell-by date is not a nice thing to be on the receiving end of.

"The ANC had also changed." It may damn well have, but it would do well not to forget that it was her hands, as well as those of the many other selfless midwives, that gave birth to this new dispensation.

Blanche La Guma's book, In the Dark with my Dress on Fire, is published by Jacana.

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