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Noni Jabavu, Author of Drawn in Colour, Dies at 88

The Ochre PeopleAlert! BOOK SA has heard from two individuals that Noni Helen Nontando Jabavu, author of two landmark works of writing on Africa – Drawn in Colour (1960) and The Ochre People (1963) – passed away yesterday at the age of 88. I haven’t been able to confirm this via public news sources yet.

Most of the biographical sketches of Jabavu list her year of birth as 1919, but one book, Women Writing Africa: the Southern Region, gives it as 1920. Fortunately for us, this book also provides a sample of Jabavu’s work – an excerpt from The Ochre People called “Bus Journey to Tsolo” – via Google Books. See the link below.

The same book, published in 2003, mentions that Jabavu was then living in Zimbabwe – so perhaps that’s where she died. Here’s a very brief sketch of her life up to The Ochre People, taken from that book’s blurb:

From the age of thirteen, Noni Jabavu was schooled in England, and continued to live there for many years. In 1955 she returned to South Africa for a three-month stay. She visited her father, Professor D.D.T. Jabavu, of Fort Hare, as well as relatives in the Eastern Cape and Johannesburg. The Ochre People, first published in 1963, is a poignant account of her trip, and contains vivid and perceptive memories of the country she loved and of the people she met.

The “Author’s Note” from Drawn in Colour may also be of interest:

I belong to two worlds with two loyalties: South Africa, where I was born, and England, where I was educated. When I received a cable sent by my father, I flew back to South Africa to be amongst my Bantu people, leaving my English husband behind in London. Later that year, he and I went to live in East Africa, to be near my only sister who had married out there. I’ve told here something of my own background and circumstances. This is a personal account of an individual African’s experiences and impressions of the differences between East and South Africa in their contact with Westernization.

To read a section from The Ochre People, go to Google Books:

BOOK SA will post more information and links related to Jabavu as they come to light.


Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    June 19th, 2008 @17:44 #

    Quick update on this story: Jabavu would have turned 89 this August, and she passed on in East London, where she had made her home for many years. More information as we hear it.

  • Vuyo
    June 25th, 2008 @13:03 #

    Hi there Ben. My name is Vuyo and i was just reading your article on Noni Jabavu's death. I work as a researcher for a media organisation and find your blog very interesting. Thanks for all your work on it. I've recently been in contact with her family and they gave me information on her passing:

    Author, Noni Jabavu has died as a result of a chest infection at the age of 88 (She would have turned 89 in August). She died at the East London-based (South Africa) Lynette Elliot Frail care centre on 18 June 2008. Lynette Elliot, owner of the frail care centre where Noni resided, says Jabavu had been frail for a while. Her funeral service will be held at the East London crematorium on 27 June 2008. Her ashes will be buried next to her mother in Middledrift on 20 August 2008 (also the day she was born).

    I hope this will be useful to you.

    Thanks again for all the good work.

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    June 25th, 2008 @14:11 #

    Vuyo, thanks very much for the additional information. We'd like to do a proper feature on Jabavu in the near future, but material is quite scarce. If you have any pictures of her - or other items that you could contribute (text from family members, etc) - please do get in touch with me: editor at book dot co dot za.


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