To Have Not, to Hold

Novel - Monica Clarke

Pages: 292

This book explores the gripping intersection of personal struggle and political resistance in Apartheid-era South Africa. Jeanie Dean, a midwife and activist, navigates the complexities of her roles, facing abuse and societal expectations. Through her journey, the novel sheds light on the resilience required to defy injustice, the silent suffering of many, and the transformative power of unexpected love. It's a narrative that challenges preconceptions and underscores the profound impact of societal upheaval on individual lives, resonating with themes of courage, resilience, and the pursuit of love and justice in the face of oppressive systems.


In public Jeanie Dean is respected as a midwife, doing her job with dedication in the shantytowns of Apartheid South Africa during the 1970’s. Whilst delivering babies, Jeanie also delivers banned materials and organises outlawed meetings as an activist in the underground liberation movement.

 Jeanie is unable to conceive, and, believing her culture when it says that she has made her bed and must lie on it, she endures physical abuse from her husband.  

Unable to disentangle herself from her emotional and religious heritage and the cultural expectations of her people, she suffers abuse in silence.

 The story starts at midnight one night in an unsafe shantytown when her car is tailed by two unmarked cars. After spending a day and night in detention being questioned by the security police, Jeanie arrives home and is, for the umpteenth time, assaulted by her drunk husband. 

 At last, unable to take any more abuse, she runs bleeding to the police station. 

She goes looking for her young friend for refuge, only to discover that she is in a mental hospital, having given birth to a baby. Jeanie steals the baby and smuggles her out of the hospital, is charged with abduction, and is removed from the professional register as a nurse and midwife. 

Her life becomes a deeper mess when she falls in love across the colour line – a crime under Apartheid. 

Yet it is he, the white Afrikaner, who eventually brings sanity and gentleness into her life!