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Thursday, October 30, 2008


South African legend Gcina Mhlophe marked her 50th birthday with a unique celebration.

Gcina Mhlophe has always lived the most singular life path – and the multitalented storyteller celebrated her 50th birthday in the most expansive way possible! On October 24, Durban’s ICC came alive with a dazzling programme of events that put the things this extraordinary woman is most passionate about centrestage.

Titled Our Heritage! Our Pride, the day-long event paid tribute to the vehicle that has most established Mhlophe as one of Africa’s leading creative talents: her passion for story telling and writing.

Says Mhlophe, “What better day to share with as many people as possible my belief in the power of literature than the day I turn 50?”

The programme included a music and dance performance by Zulu Pride from Kwa Mashu before poetry took the spotlight with readings by Sne Mkhize, Nozipho Mdletshe , Basadzi, Zintombi Zengcuce, Limakatso Hlalele, Moonchild, and the Zanendaba Storytellers. There was also a tribute to veteran authors and plenty of music and dance, including an iSicathimiya performance by the Mpumalanga White Birds.

Mhlophe herself contributed a story, with world renowned storyteller from the US, Valerie Tutson, with additional storytelling by Khosi Mazibuko with Zanendaba Storytellers. Highly respected musicians like Bheki Khoza and Madala Kunene were there to share their amazing talents.

Some 20 schools received book boxes as gifts on this day – thanks to book donations sourced by Mhlophe and BIBLIONEF.

For Mhlophe the power of words came to her when she was a teenager – and has not diminished more than 30 years on. As she told a journalist, “At 17, I had as a school set book Wrath of the Ancestors by AC Jordan, father of Pallo – it was sumptuous, a feast of language. That same year, I saw a fantastic dramatic praise poet at a traditional meeting. I was off!“ Now a published author of more than 16 books (including plays, poetry, traditional African stories and her own work), Mhlophe’s creative life is also made up of acting on stage and screen (Darryl Roodt’s Place Of Weeping), narrating TV documentaries, directing (she was a resident director at Johannesburg’s Market Theatre, and a visiting director at companies like the Chicago Theatre Co.) and much more. This year has seen her receive two Honorary Doctorates from Pretoria and Fort Hare Universities for her work.

Recently Mhlophe has been giving motivational talks for big companies and workshops, and working on literacy projects, among them her own initiative NOZINCWADI Mother of Books which has been running for the past eight years. She’s been involved with READ Educational trust, SA Book Forum and with the Zanendaba Institute of Storytelling in Africa.

The latter was founded by Mhlophe in 1992, and today Khosi Mazibuko is the director. They help train teams of professional storytellers, who then use their skills anywhere from pre-primary schools to teacher training colleges and community groups.

“Fifty is a landmark year for anyone and I am hoping that I can use my birthday to really turn the spotlight on what it means to live and breathe and preserve the heritage of our spoken and written word in Africa,” says Mhlophe.