The storyteller behind the words

2010-11-05 13:59

Gcina Mhlophe has had an ­extraordinary professional career and her achievements have had a profound impact on South African arts, culture and heritage. She has been writing and performing on stage and screen for more than 20 years.

She has published numerous works including poetry, short stories, plays and children’s books.

Gcina produced and performed a CD for children which won the 2010 Sama award for best ­children’s album.

She is dedicated to preserving the art of storytelling as a means of keeping history alive and encouraging South African children to read.

Growing up you managed to keep a positive outlook, follow your dreams and become successful.

To what do you ­attribute your ability to shine through such a dark time?

I would say that the first 10 years of my life were a positive and beautiful beginning.

The grandmother who brought me up was full of joy and positivity. She was a very good gardener, apart from ­being a fantastic storyteller.

She treated me like one of her gardens, and she nurtured me, she pruned me, and she did everything that you do to a garden that you really love.

So when I faced the hardships of life later on, I was already nurtured and I could pull through. So I would say it’s natural, but also the nurturing was very important.

You mentioned that your grandmother was a fantastic storyteller.

Did she play a big part in your storytelling ability?

Exactly, she’s the one who told me ­stories every day.

I was full of questions. If I asked her a question, she said: “In fact, I do have a story just about that.”

And out came a long story explaining things in detail. I loved the fact that we had this communication.

I have heard that you too like gardening. Is that what you do to unwind?

Yes, it’s my therapy. When I’m exhausted, I go and sit outside. I’ve got a praying corner in my garden and I sit down and I just dream, I plan, I calm down. It’s my beautiful space.

I’ve created a peace garden and I also love working in the garden.

Were you always confident and outgoing or did you have to work at it?

From that positive, happy, outgoing child, I went to live in the Eastern Cape and I lost my balance.

I felt so insecure, I hated my voice, I didn’t speak thelanguage and I didn’t belong.

But I was good in the classroom, and the fact that I could read, was something that sustained me.

It took me years to come out of this place of feeling so insecure and not belonging.

When I started writing, I found my voice.

I was 17-years-old when I wrote my first poem and I began to fall in love with myself.

I began accepting who I am and I am lucky to have discovered that joy and sense of purpose and direction at that age.

Do you think that by telling our stories we heal ourselves and each other?

By telling our stories we learn to communicate and say what we mean.

One of the reasons I love telling stories to young people is to encourage them to use words and language. Stories are also a way of bonding in the family. And yes, storytelling is healing.

It opens doors. It is trans-gender, trans-ages, trans-generations, trans-cultures and trans-religions.

And that is very empowering. The answer I give when people ask me why I tell stories is always the same, every day.
I tell stories in order to wake up stories in other people. Every living being has got a story to tell.

Is there anything you still long to experience in your life?

I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had much more than I dreamed and prayed for so I’m a very content, grateful person. But one of the things that I really would be grateful for, is to have more calm time.

To be able to write more, there’s so much writing to be done, including writing for film.

We need to tell a different kind of story as South Africans, especially coming from the women of this country and this continent.
My final dream is to be able to have a memory house in this country.

A memory house where we can have an oral ­museum for people whether they can read or write, whether they are educated or not, whether they are rich or poor, whether they are famous or not, for their stories to be told.

If I could do that, I’d be satisfied and put a full stop.

What advice would you share with young people about believing in themselves and following their passions and dreams?

I say, don’t panic if you’re not clear about what you want. Life has got a way of carrying you.

If you are not sure, travel on the journey you are on until something becomes clear to you, until your heart says out loud, YES.

And when you’ve found that thing that says yes, clearly, unequivocally, and you say that is mine, that is where I want to go, set your eyes on the final destination but also be prepared for the detours.

I have had many detours in life, and I’ve survived, here I am. I’m still here. And there is a light that shines inside every one of us, and that light is called hope. Keep it alive.

Lastly, do you have anything on the go right now that you’d like to share with us?

We’ve had a lot of criticism as storytellers and writers in this country of not having had enough published in our African languages. I’ve been writing more and more in isiZulu and isiXhosa and ­loving it.

I’m making it a point to celebrate the languages that I speak.

And so the CD Songs and Stories of Africa, which has won the Sama award this year, is coming out in isiZulu and isiXhosa.

I’m very excited about that.

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