What is the summary for And They Didn't Die?

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laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

And They Didn't Die by Lauretta Ngcobo is the story of a woman trying to keep her children safe in Apartheid Africa after her husband is sentenced to ten years in prison.

Much of the book centers on the unjust Apartheid politics and how they affect Jezile and her family, who live in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. 

Much of the suffering that Jezile and her family undergo can be traced directly to Apartheid law. She's part of a women's group headed by Nosizwe, a doctor, who organizes and encourages the women kept down by the government. Nosizew tells Jezile:

Look Jezile, it's straightforward. 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 in the 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 -- it's not because he's a brilliant man, it's because he buys the land for so little. [. . .] It's because the government gives him such high subsidies to maintain his crops and preferential treatment in marketing his produce.

Jezile is a young woman whose husband is away from home for most of the year. She's unable to travel to see him due to Apartheid law. When she decides to face the rancor of her village to obtain a travel permit, Jezile is finally allowed to spend time with Siyalo. She becomes pregnant.

Siyalo is sent home after he protests the unjust government and loses his job. Jezile also goes to jail while she's pregnant with another child. The taxes they have to pay the government make it difficult for them to stay afloat. Later, Siyalo is imprisoned for stealing milk to feed their starving daughter. Desperate for an income, Jezile travels far away to work for a white family. 

When she's raped by a member of the family, she leaves and returns to her small village with her new, illegitimate mulatto baby. Because of what her society views as her indiscretion, they insist that Jezile no longer have custody of the two daughters she had with her husband. 

Jezile fights to keep her children together and to raise them to be strong and independent people. Near the end of the book, Jezile -- who has struggled with the political system her entire life -- is shocked to learn one of her daughters has picked up the cause. Ngcobo writes of a conversation Jezile has with S'naye, her other daughter:

"Political work? What, more political work? Hasn't she done enough? Haven't we given enough? Haven't we given everything to politics?" Jezile asked, getting agitated.

"It's her life Mother, she's given her life to it...just like I've given mine to looking after the sick. Politics is her life." Then they both went on talking, each to herself, exploring her own thoughts and not listening to each other.

Jezile has to come to terms with her children being independent adults who make risky choices in service of what they love by the end of the novel. 

Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

And They Didn't Die is yet another installment in the Women Writing Africa series of books that reveal a lot about women on the continent of Africa.  Even though it's a novel, it's a historical novel, one that shows the abuse of apartheid in South Africa during the 20th century. 

The novel is mainly about a wonderfully strong, South African woman named Jezile Majola.  She unwittingly becomes the only one supporting her family after her husband is unjustly imprisoned.  Why unjustly?  He stole milk from a farmer (who happened to be white) to feed to their starving baby!  As a result, the baby lives, but loses the bread-winning father of the family.

Jezile Majola is forced to work outside of her community in order to earn a living.  Her community is in rural South Africa of the Bantu Tribe, and full of poverty as a result of apartheid.  After Jezile Majola finally secures a job hundreds of miles from home (and from her two girls), she is brutally raped by her boss and, as a result, has a mixed-race baby which places more shame on the family.  Even worse, the law of the Bantu tribe takes her girls away from her (because they are not allowed to be raised by a woman with an illegitimate child). 

Putting her own life at risk, she rescues her two girls as she watches her country fall into the worst atrocities that accompany apartheid.  As we travel with Jezile Majola, we see the beauty in Bantu village life, culture, and struggle with the South African government. 

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