Gcina Elsie Mhlophe (born 1958) is a well-known South African freedom fighter, activist, actor, storyteller, poet, playwright, director and author. Storytelling is a deeply traditional activity in Africa and Mhlophe is one of the few woman storytellers in a country dominated by males. She does her most important work through charismatic performances, working to preserve storytelling as a means of keeping history alive and encouraging South African children to read. She tells her stories in four of South Africa's languages: English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa.
Life and career
Mhlophe was born in 1959 in KwaZulu-Natal to a Xhosa mother and a Zulu father. She started her working life as a domestic servant, later working as a newsreader at the Press Trust and BBC Radio, then as a writer for Learn and Teach, a magazine for newly-literate people. The unique timbre of her voice eventually singled her out to perform.
Several experiences inspired Mhlophe to turn to a career as storyteller. She credits her storytelling ability to her grandmother, who brought her up in Durban. Mhlophe says, "My grandmother taught me everything about telling stories. When I was growing up, half the kids in our neighbourhood would come and spend the evening at home so that they could listen to izinganekwane (tales)."
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 ever-growing 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.
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 meld folklore, information, current affairs, song and idiom. The realisation of her dreams is a visceral motivator for her and she is passing on her infectious enthusiasm by developing young talent to carry forward the work of storytelling through the Zanendaba (Bring me a story) Initiative. This initiative, established in 2002, is a collaboration with the Market Theatre and READ, a national literacy organization.
Mhlophe currently serves as the patron of the ASSITEJ South Africa, the International Association for Theatre for Children and Young People.
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 the ASSITEJ South Africa, the International Association for Theatre for Children and Young People.
- 1983, took the lead in Umongikazi: The Nurse, by Maishe Maponya
- 1984, acted in Black Dog: Inj'emnyama
- 1986, Place of Weeping (film)
- 1986, Have you seen Zandile? (autobiographical play, at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg, Mhlophe as Zandile)
- 1987, Born in the RSA (New York)
- 1989, storytelling festival at the Market Theatre (there have been many since then)
- 1989, performed a praise poem in honour of Nokukhanya Luthuli, 1961 Nobel Peace Prize winner
- 1990, performed Have you seen Zandile? at the Edinburgh Festival
- Toured Have you seen Zandile? through Europe and the USA
- 1989–1990, resident director at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg
- co-ordinator at READ, a national literacy organization
- 1991, Ashoka Fellowship (social entrepreneurship innovator)
- 1993, Music for Little People (CD)
- 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
- Philharmonic Orchestra (London)
- Royal Albert Hall (London)
- Cologne Philharmonie, Africa at the Opera
- Honorary doctorate from the London Open University
- Honorary doctorate from the University of Natal
- Lectureships at various universities
- 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
- Pops Mohamed, musician and tribal music preservationist
- Ladysmith Black Mambazo, choir group, The Gift of the Tortoise (CD), 1994 and Music for Little People in America (CD), 1993
- Bheki Khoza, guitarist, Animated Tales of the World (TV series for Right Angle in the UK and for the SABC)
- Anant Singh, video producer, Fudukazi's Magic (CD and video for German audiences)
- Biblionef South Africa, a children's book donation agency, supplies book packages for Mhlophe's workshops, 2003
- Acted and narrated in Travelling Songs
- 1990, performed poetry in Songolo: voices of change (how aspects of culture in South Africa have become part of the anti-apartheid struggle)
- 1993, The Travelling Song (the contemporary process of story gathering)
- Appeared in Literacy Alive
- Appeared in Art Works
- Nominee for the Noma Award for Queen of the Tortoises, 1991
- Book Chat Award for Molo Zoleka
- OBBIE 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?
- Sony Award for Radio Drama from BBC Radio Africa for Have you seen Zandile?
- Mhlophe, Gcina. Molo Zoleka New Africa Education, 1994. (Children's book)
- MaZanendaba (Children's book)
- Mhlophe, Gcina. The Snake with Seven Heads. Johannesburg, Skotaville Publishers, 1989. (Children's book, translated into five African languages, the English edition is required in all South African school libraries)
- Mhlophe, Gcina. Have you seen Zandile?. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1990. (Play, based on her childhood, required in South African university libraries)
- Mhlophe, Gcina. Queen of the Tortoises. Johannesburg: Skotaville, 1990. (Children's book)
- Mhlophe, Gcina. The Singing Dog. Illustrated by Erica Maritz and Andries Maritz. Johannesburg: Skotaville, 1992. (Children's book)
- Mhlophe, Gcina. Nalohima, the Deaf Tortoise. Gamsbek, 1999.
- Mhlophe, Gcina. Fudukazi's Magic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. (CD – lyrics and music, performance)
- 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
- The Connection. org Dick Gordon of WBUR Boston interviews Mhlophe extensively.
- Biblionef South Africa Official site of Biblionef South Africa, a children's book donation organisation which has previously collaborated with Mhlophe.
- Badilisha Poetry Exchange Profile and podcast