The South African writer Gcina Mhlophe was born in 1958 in Natal near Durban. At the age of 21 she moved to Johannesburg where she worked as a housemaid, journalist and actress. She toured around Europe and North America acting in many different plays until she wrote her own in 1986. She was both director and leading actress for ‘Have You seen Zandile?’ which won numerous prizes at international festivals. A short time after, she established the group Zanendaba Storytellers which holds a festival for storytellers every year.
Mhlophe is one of the most well known South African artists. Her work makes a decided contribution to the revival of the African storytelling tradition. At present two of her books are available in German. One of them, ‘Love Child’ (1996), contains a selection of stories and poems in the style of the South African ‘imbongis’. In the same way as these traditional storytellers, Mhlophe offers entertainment and the possibility of identification, and at the same time she contributes in creating cultural identity in her work. The texts which feature in this volume tell of an arranged marriage (‘Nokulunga’s Wedding’), exhort political officers (‘Leader Remember’), recall the oppression of the Apartheid regime (‘My Dear Madam’) and describe the triumphant feeling at its downfall (‘The Crocodile Spirit’). The title story introduces South Africa’s heterogeneous society, with its many different languages and quarrelling peoples, as the central theme. At the same time, ‘Love Child’ is also an autobiographical story of the author who is the child of a Zulu and a Xhosa. Due to this she represents the overcoming of conflicts which she also strives against herself. “I write stories and sing my songs to bring people together, to teach them to dance to the rhythm of the drum, to a new rhythm which isn’t caused by war, but rouses in them the wish to create their own life and at the same time to get to know themselves so that they can live together.”
This popular storytelling has not only an evident political meaning but also an important pedagogic dimension. Due to this, Mhlophe’s repertoire contains many stories for children. Her published books include ‘A Mother’s Search for Stories’ (1995) and ‘Molo Zoleka’ (1994), for which she won the Book Chat Award. After ‘Stories of Africa’ (2003) another illustrated volume of fairy tales was published entitled ‘Our Story Magic’ (2006).
The author is still first and foremost active as a perfomer. She tells stories, dances, appears in numerous international music programmes and can also often be seen in films and television broadcasts, as well as heard on radio progammes. Her musical partners include Francis and Patric Bebey, Sam Shabalala and she has also worked with the Ladysmith Black Mambazo choir and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. She was given an honorary doctorate by both London University and Natal University for her work. Mhlophe lives with her German husband and daughter Khwezi Heike in Durban.
© international literature festival berlin