Home INSPIRATION On the Shoulders of Giants: Gcina Mhlope

On the Shoulders of Giants: Gcina Mhlope


On October 24, 1958, Nokugcina Elsie Mhlophe was born in KwaZulu- Natal, South Africa. Her mother was of Xhosa origin, and her father was of Zulu origin. In 1979, she enrolled in the Mfundisweni High School where she found her love for writing, theater, and creating. After high school, she enrolled in Rhodes University located in Grahamstown, South Africa, at the university Gcina partook in a cadet course for journalism. During her time in college, she also took part in a film making course as a community project with the Interchurch Media Program that lasted six months. Her career as a professional began as a domestic worker before she worked at the Press Trust as a newsreader. She also worked as a writer for Learn and Teach Magazine around 1983, as well as, working with BBC radio. Gcina was getting off to a good start as a journalist and writer.

Gcina was not only a journalist, but she immersed herself within theater and performing which led to her becoming the lead actress in the 1983 play The Nurse. In 1984, she had a leading role in the workshop play titled The Black Dog. Joining the theater along with writing helped Gcina travel South Africa, throughout the African continent and the world. From 1985 to 1987, she wrote an autobiographical play which she also stared in titled Have You Seen Zandile; the play took her to the United States where it was performed in Chicago, Illinois and Knoxville, Tennessee. She was noted as a visiting director in conjunction with the Chicago Theatre Co. and at Knoxville’s Carpet Bag Theatre. Gcina was inspired to use her writings and her voice to tell her stories by an Imbongi, or a Xhosa Praise Poet; this was a title that was traditionally held by men. She also received support to move forward as a play writer and performer by an African poetry legend named Mannie Manim, who was the director of the Market Theatre located in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Her travels allowed her to learn to speak five different languages, Zulu, Xhosa, English, Afrikaans and Sotho. Because of her travels, popularity and work ethic, her works were translated into German, French, Italian, Swahili and Japanese. She not only traveled to perform in plays and for journalism Purposes, she held storytelling workshops for the people of the cities she visited. This was a long journey from performing for black-only audiences in South Africa hoping an audience would show up. Between 1987 and 1998, Gcina performed in and or directed several plays such as, Inyanga, Somdaka, The Good Person Of Sechuan, and Love Child, which gave her an opportunity to perform in Japan. She received four theater awards from 1987 to 1988; she also performed in at least ten television shows and movies from 1986 to 2007.  She was either fully responsible for or a part of twenty-eight publications. She has received over twelve awards for writing, publishing books and storytelling.

With a career that spans over thirty years; Gcina is not only noted for her excellence as a writer, director, performer and storyteller, she also made a name for herself as a South African anti-apartheid activist. She found a way to be successful in an industry that was male dominated, because her light could not be dimmed. She traveled the world, told the stories in her heart and was a part of the storytelling of other authors. She gave her time to her people through theater, storytelling and writing, as well as, used her voice and platform to fight apartheid and white supremacy. She inspired women all over the world to believe in themselves and their abilities. Her legend is cemented but her work is not over; she was last known as the patron of the International Association for Theatre for Children and Young People. Ms. Nokugcina Elsie Mhlophe, we proudly stand on your shoulders.

J.A. Ward

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