Double Book Launch: Alex & Blanche La Guma

Jacana Media and Lobby Books invite you to the joint launch of:

In the Dark with my Dress on Fire by Blanche La Guma


Alex La Guma – A Literary Political Biography by Roger Field


Guest Speaker: Former Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs

Date: Thursday 25 November 2010

Time: 5.30pm for 6.00pm

Venue: Lobby Books, Cape Town Democracy Center, 6 Spin Street

RSVP: Andreas Spath at or 021 467 7606

In the Dark with My Dress on Fire 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 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.

Best known as a novelist and political activist, Alex la Guma (1925–85) was also a journalist, comic strip artist, reviewer, sketcher, painter, short story writer and travel writer. Born in Cape Town’s famous multiracial District Six, he was a founding member of the South African Coloured People’s Organisation and a leading member of the Congress Alliance during the 1950s and 1960s. Due to his political activity he was detained without trial, shot at, placed under house arrest, and ultimately tried for treason in 1956–61.

He reluctantly went into exile in 1966, where he continued his writing and political work for the ANC and the South African Communist Party, travelling widely as an ANC spokesperson on cultural matters. In 1979 he became the ANC’s Chief Representative in Central and Latin America and moved to Havana, where he died in 1985.

La Guma attracted the attention of critics and literary scholars from the time his first short stories appeared in the 1950s, and he has been hailed by such important literary figures as Achebe, Soyinka and J.M. Coetzee. His novels continue to sell steadily and inspire comments by literary critics, who have studied different aspects of his work, but who have left the rest of his life and his literary and political influences relatively untouched. Drawing on a far wider range of his writing and artwork, some previously unpublished, this book combines biography with literary and political analyses to offer fresh insights into his major texts: A Walk in the Night (1962), And a Threefold Cord (1964), The Stone Country (1967), In the Fog of the Seasons’ End (1972), A Soviet Journey (1975) and Time of the Butcherbird (1979).

Parking options:

Street parking in the area is safe.

Parking garages open to the public in the area include:

  • Plein Park (Plein Street; to get to the entrance, turn off Plein Street into Barrack Street and then into Corporation Street).
  • Mandela Rhodes Place (entrance in Burg Street, off Wale Street).

One Response

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andreas Spath, CT Democracy Centre. CT Democracy Centre said: Double book launch this Thurs: 'In the Dark with my Dress on Fire' & 'Alex La Guma – A Literary Political Biography' […]

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