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Sunday, December 26, 2010


In the Dark with My Dress on Fire - My Life in Cape Town, London, Havana and Home Again by Blanche La Guma with Martin Klammer is the remarkable life story of Blanche La Guma, a South African woman who dedicated her life to ending apartheid through her various roles as professional nurse, wife and mother, and underground Communist activist.

Born into a poor, working-class coloured family in Cape Town, Blanche met her future husband, the novelist Alex La Guma, while training as a nurse-midwife in the early 1950s. Together they fought apartheid at great personal risk before continuing the struggle in exile in London and Havana, Cuba.

Harassed, banned, and imprisoned in solitary confinement for her political convictions, Blanche worked as a nurse-midwife in poor black communities on the Cape Flats. With Alex constantly detained or under house arrest, she was the family’s only breadwinner, a role she would continue throughout their life together. When Blanche was not working, visiting her husband in prison, or protecting their two young sons Eugene and Barto from harassment by the security police, she met secretly at night with fellow anti-apartheid Communists. As a young nurse she led the fight against “nursing apartheid” in Cape Town and she provided safe houses for anti-apartheid leaders such as Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki.

Forced into exile with her family in 1966, Blanche continued her struggle for justice in London, advocating for better maternal care in a large urban hospital and managing a Soviet Union publications office. When Alex was called to Havana, Cuba, in 1978 as chief representative of the African National Congress (ANC) in the Caribbean, she joined him as a full partner, which included their mentoring of ANC students sent to Cuba after the 1976 Soweto Uprising. Her story provides a rare first-hand account of life as a South African in Fidel Castro’s Cuba until Alex’s death by heart attack in 1985.

Told vividly, passionately, and at times humorously, In the Dark with My Dress on Fire is a compelling account of Blanche La Guma’s struggle against apartheid on three continents. It’s the story of a courageous woman who paid dearly for her commitments yet returned with dignity to a free and democratic South Africa.

Martin Klammer is Professor of Africana Studies and English and head of the Africana Studies Department at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa (USA). He is the author of Whitman, Slavery, and the Emergence of ‘Leaves of Grass’ (1995) and articles on American and African-American literature. He has taught in Diversity Studies at the University of Cape Town (2005) and served as a consultant to the Bophirima Development Initiative in Vryburg, South Africa (1998-1999).

In the Dark with My Dress on Fire is published by Jacana Media in paperback. Recommended Retail Price R165. EAN/ISBN-13: 9781770098886