Inspirational Monday: How Dr Gcina Mhlophe has worked to preserve our heritage

Dr Gcina Mhlophe, storyteller and children’s literature author. Photo: File

Dr Gcina Mhlophe, storyteller and children’s literature author. Photo: File

Published Sep 19, 2022


Heritage is made up of the customs and norms that are handed down from parents to children, but it also has to do with what has passed on from the family, community and place where people have been raised.

This heritage month, it is important to celebrate those who work tirelessly to preserve our cultures and traditions.

Dr Gcina Mhlophe

Storyteller Dr Gcina Mhlophe. Photo: Zanele Zulu

For as long as there have been people in the world, there have been stories — long before all the great respectable sciences were known to us.

Dr Gcina Mhlophe is an award-winning storyteller, poet, musician and actress. The legendary anti-apartheid activist was born on October 24, 1958 in Durban and grew up in Hammarsdale.

According to reports, she was influenced by her grandmother’s stories to pursue this path. She speaks five languages; Zulu, Xhosa, English, Afrikaans and Sotho. In 1979, she matriculated from Mfundisweni High School. She has made it her life’s work to teach children to embrace their indigenous languages and their stories through her books.

Dr Mhlophe attended Rhodes University for a cadet journalism course and a six-month filmmaking course as part of the Interchurch Media Programme's community project.

She worked as a part-time news reader for Press Trust, Africa Service, and wrote for Learn and Teach magazine between 1982 and 1983. Since 2001, she has been running the Nozincwadi Mother of Books Literacy Campaign to help South Africa become a reading nation.

Here are some of her most notable children’s books:

1989 - Snake With Seven Heads. This book was translated into five African languages and accepted in the schools libraries.

1990 - Queen Of The Tortoises

1991 - Molo! Zoleka. It was translated into four different South African languages.

1992 - The Singing Dog

In February 2021, Dr Mhlophe released a series of five-minute long online stories to entertain children. “I have specifically chosen stories that will take children’s minds somewhere else during these dark and gloomy days,” she said in a statement, referring to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Recently, the icon partnered with SmartStart, an early learning non-profit organisation, to launch their new wordless story books.

“Parents often don’t realise the value of story sharing, or even just talking with their child. This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to help children develop language skills, expose them to new ideas,” Dr Mhlophe was quoted saying.

“And most importantly – build their love for learning. Storytelling is a huge part of our South African heritage, and is especially powerful as shared experience with a caregiver.”

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