Durban Living Legend – Gcina Mhlophe-Becker
Born in Hammersdale Township also known as Mpumalanga in 1959, Gcina Mhlophe-Becker is a well-known South African freedom fighter, activist, actor, storyteller, poet, playwright, director and author. 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.
2 Praise Poem
3 Selected Bibliography
4 Interview with Nellie Hlongwane
She tells her stories in four South African languages: English, Afrikaans, isiZulu and isiXhosa. Mhlophe has appeared in theatres from Soweto to London and much of her work has been translated into German, French, Italian, Swahili and Japanese. She has travelled extensively in Africa and other parts of the world giving storytelling workshops.
Currently, Mhlophe focuses on making books available to poor South African rural communities by making sure that libraries are built and are stocked with locally and culturally relevant books.
Praise poem performed in 1989 in honour of Nokukhanya Luthuli, widow of Chief Albert Luthuli – past president of the ANC in the ’50s and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1961:
If the moon were to shine tonight
To light up my face and show off my proud form
With beads around my neck and shells in my hair
And a soft easy flowing dress with the colours of Africa
If I were to stand on top of a hill
And raise my voice in praise
Of the women of my country
Who have worked throughout their lives
Not for themselves, but for the very life of all Africans
Who would I sing my praises to?
I could quote all the names
Yes, but where do I begin?!
Do I begin with the ones
Who gave their lives
So that we others may live a better life
The Lilian Ngoyis, the Victoria Mxenges
The Ruth Firsts
Or the ones who have lost their men
To Robben Island and their children to exile
But carried on fighting
The MaMotsoaledis, the MaSisulus
The Winnie Mandelas?
Or maybe I would sing praises to
The ones who, have had the resilience
And cunning of a desert cobra
Priscilla Jana, Fatima Meer, Beauty Mkhize
Or the ones who turned deserts into green vegetable gardens
From which our people can eat
Mamphela Ramphele, Ellen Kuzwayo
Or would the names of the women
Who marched, suffered solitary confinement and house arrests
Helen Joseph, Amina Cachalia, Sonya Bunting, Dorothy Nyembe,
Thoko Mngoma, Florence Matomela, Bertha Mkhize,
How many more names come to mind
As I remember the Defiance Campaign
The fights against Beer Halls that suck the strength of our men
Building of alternative schools away from Bantu Education
And the fight against pass laws
Maybe, maybe, I would choose a name
Just one special name that spells out light
That of Mama Nokukhanya Luthuli
Maybe if I were to call out her name
From the top of the hill
While the moon is shining bright;
Maybe my voice would be carried by the wind
To reach all the other women
Whose names are not often mentioned
The ones who sell oranges and potatoes
So their children can eat and learn
The ones who scrub floors and polish executive desktops
In towering office blocks
While the city sleeps
The ones who work in overcrowded hospitals
Saving lives, cleaning bullet wounds and delivering new babies
And the ones who have given up
Their places of comfort and the protection of their skin colour
Marian Sparg, Sheena Duncan,
Barbara Hogan, Jenny Schreiner.
And what of the women who are stranded in the homelands
With a baby in the belly and a baby on the back
While their men are sweating in the bowels of the earth?
May the lives of all these women
Be celebrated and made to shine
When I cry out Mama Nokukhanya’s name
And we who are young, salute our mothers Who have given us
The heritage of their Queendom!!!
From Women Writing Africa: the southern region. Margaret Daymond et al. (eds). Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 2002.
Some of the titles that Gcina Mhlope has published:
1988. Have you Seen Zandile?
1989. The Snake with Seven Heads. (Illustrated by Hargreaves Ntukwana).
1990. Queen of the Tortoises.
1992. The Singing Dog. (Illustrated by Erica Maritz and Andries Maritz).
1992. Gcina Mhlophe Tells it Like it is.
1999. Fudukazi’s Magic.
2002. Love Child.
2003. Queen of Imbira.
2003. Hi! Zoleka!.
2004. African Mother Christmas.
2004. Stories of Africa.
2006. Our Story Magic.
Interview with Nellie Hlongwane
In a personal interview with Gcina she shared something of herself, the person behind the personality. Her name Nokugcina Mhlophe means ‘last one’ because she is the last born in her family. Her family clan praises are: Mhlophe kaZindela kaNonkomonhle kaChanca. She comes from Hammarsdale, a small village between Durban and Pietemaritzburg. She grew up in the Eastern Cape and had to learn isiXhosa and English there.
She married Mr. Becker from New Hanover, Germany in 1996. She is a biological mother to one daughter and mother to many other children that she is working with. Her daughter’s name is Nomakhwezi meaning ‘brand new day’. Gcina remembers her grandmother as a good storyteller who used to tell fairy tales and legends in a way that made her feel part of the story that she was telling. Her father was her role model, and she remembers him teaching her to respect all people, no matter what kind of work they do, and also to respect herself, because she portrays her family and her country.
Gcina began her writing career when she was 17, writing poems. She lacked self confidence because of her voice, but Mr. Firkin encouraged her by saying she’s got a poet’s voice. That was when she started to love her own voice. Her first poem was titled ‘Sanele Arobi’. Some of her earliest books published were ‘Inqubeli’ and ‘Imvozabantu’. She is also an accomplished actor, having played in many productions, and a director.
She likes to work with young people and always tells them that she loves them, because she believes that it is important to make young people feel that they are loved; then they will be able to focus on what they do best. Gcina has been travelling since 1983, and she is still traveling today, doing shows all over the world. She admits that it is wonderful for her when performing abroad to tell her audience from KwaZulu-Natal. Her life has changed from a journalist to an interpreter, to a script writer and a professional actor.