Fitting birthday for our best storyteller

Edward Tsumele

Edward Tsumele

Gcina Mhlophe, South Africa's leading storyteller, will celebrate her 50th birthday in style on Friday.

The South African legend will mark her very special day in a unique way.

Durban's ICC will come alive with a dazzling programme of events that this extraordinary woman is most passionate about.

Titled Our Heritage, Our Pride, the daylong event pays tribute to the vehicle that has established Mhlophe as one of Africa's leading creative talents: her passion for storytelling 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 starts at 10am and will run till 4pm. There will be music and dance by Zulu Pride from Kwa-Mashu and then poetry will take the spotlight with readings by Sne Mkhize, Nozipho Mdletshe, Basadzi, Zintombi Zengcuce, Limakatso Hlalele, Moonchild and the Zanendaba Storytellers.

The programme will also include a tribute to other veteran authors. Besides music and dance, there will be an iSicathimiya performance by the Mpumalanga White Birds.

Mhlophe herself will tell a story, with world renowned US storyteller Valerie Tutson. There will be additional storytelling by Khosi Mazibuko and the Zanendaba Storytellers.

Highly respected musicians such as Bheki Khoza and Madala Kunene will be there to share their amazing talents with the audience.

A highlight of the programme will be donations of books, which will be sourced by Mhlophe and Biblionef.

Twenty schools will receive books.

The power of words came to Mhlophe when she was a teenager.

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 and much more.

She was a resident director at Johannesburg's Market Theatre and a visiting director at the Chicago Theatre Co.

This year Mhlophe received honorary doctorates from the University of Pretoria and Fort Hare.

Mhlophe is one busy woman. She has also been giving motivational talks and running workshops for employees of companies and working on literacy projects.

Among these is her own initiative, Nozinwadi Mother of Books, which has been running for the past eight years.

She's also been involved with the Read Educational Trust, South African Book Forum and Zanendaba Institute of Storytelling in Africa.

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

The birthday girl says: "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."