Legendary Queen of African tales Nokugcina Elsie Mhlophe is a South African anti-apartheid activist, actress, storyteller, poet, playwright, director and author who was born on 24th October, 1958. As storytelling is a traditional activity in Africa, Mhlophe is one of the few woman storytellers in the country. She does her work through charismatic performances, working to preserve storytelling as a means of keeping history alive and encouraging South African children to read. She uses four South African languages; English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa. to tell her stories.
Mhlophe first started her working life as a domestic servant. Later she worked as a newsreader at the Press Trust and BBC Radio, then as a writer for Learn and Teach, a magazine for newly-literate people.
As time began to unfold coupled with several experiences, Mhlophe was inspired to turn to a career as storyteller. She credits her storytelling ability to her grandmother, who brought her up in Durban.
She began to get a sense of the demand for stories while in Chicago in 1988. She performed at a library in a mostly-black neighbourhood, where an increasing number of audience kept inviting her back. Still, Mhlophe only began to think of storytelling as a career after meeting an Imbongi, one of the legendary poets of African folklore, and after encouragement by Mannie Manim, the then-director of the Market Theatre, Johannesburg.
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Since then Mhlophe has appeared in theatres from Soweto to London and much of her work has been translated into German, French, Italian, Swahili and Japanese. Mhlophe has travelled extensively in Africa and other parts of the world giving storytelling workshops.
Mhlophe’s stories is a combination of folklore, information, current affairs, song and idiom. She established an initiative in 2002 called Zanendaba (Bring me a story) which is a collaboration with the Market Theatre and READ, a national literacy organization which develops young talents to carry forward the work of storytelling through the Initiative.
Mhlophe focuses on making books available to poor South African rural communities by making sure that libraries are built, and making sure they are stocked with locally and culturally relevant books. Mhlophe currently serves as the patron of ASSITEJ South Africa, the International Association for Theatre for Children and Young People
Below are some of Mhlophe’s work:
- 1991, Ashoka Fellowship (social entrepreneurship innovator)
- 1993, Music for Little People (CD)
- 1993, reader voice Not so fast, Songololo (videorecording), Weston Woods, Weston CT, Scholastic
- 1994, The Gift of the Tortoise (contributed to the Ladysmith Black Mambazo album)
- 1997, Poetry Africa, presenting poet
- 1999, guest speaker at the Perth Writers Festival
- 2000, performed in Peter und der Wolf at the Komische Oper (Berlin)
- Wrote music for her SABC TV series Gcina & Friends
- 2002, Fudukazi’s Magic screened in Durban at the African Union Film Festival
- 2002, The Bones of Memory (performance, history-telling from the old and new South Africa)
- 2003, lectured on storytelling at the Eye of the Beholder seminar
- 2003, Mata Mata (performance, family musical)
- 2006, FIFA World Cup South African handover ceremony, Germany
Mhlophe has also won several awards and recognition. In 1991 she was nominated for the Noma Award for Queen of the Tortoises. She also wonBook Chat Award for Molo Zoleka, OBIE Theatrical Award (New York) for Born in the RSA, Fringe First Award (Edinburgh) for Have you seen Zandile?
Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Actress (Chicago) for Have you seen Zandile? and Sony Award for Radio Drama from BBC Radio Africa for Have you seen Zandile?
She was chosen as one of BBC’s 100 Women in 2016.
In addition to her works, Mhlophe has also written many books including:
- Mhlophe, Gcina. Fudukazi’s Magic. Cambridge University Press, 2000 (CD – lyrics and music, performance, for German audiences)
- Mhlophe, Gcina. Nozincwadi, Mother of Books. Maskew Miller Longman, 2001. (CD and book, South African roadshow to rural schools)
- Mhlophe, Gcina. African Mother of Christmas. Maskew Miller Longman, 2002. (CD and book)
- Mhlophe, Gcina. Love Child. Durban: University of Natal Press, 2002. (Memoir, collection of stories)
- Margaret Daymond et al. (eds). Women Writing Africa: the southern region. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 2002.
- Mhlophe, Gcina. Stories of Africa. University of Natal Press, 2003. (Children’s book)
- Mhlophe, Gcina. Queen of Imbira. Maskew Miller Longman. (Children’s book)
- Mhlophe, Gcina . ” Songs & stories of Africa – South African Music Awards Winner 2010 for Best English Kids Album – African Cream Music.