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Mosaic courtesy of Michelle Govender
Nozincwadi, Mother of Books
Nozincwadi was conceived by Dr Gcina Mhlophe, in 2001 as a literacy campaign to help build a reading and writing nation in South Africa and has travelled to the most remote areas of the country. The level of illiteracy in the country was a driving force behind this campaign. This initiative began as a reading roadshow, which allowed her and a small team to drive to different parts of the country and carry boxes of books to many different schools. Often these schools did not even have a library and Dr Mhlophe would encourage them to choose a room to call a library using that Nozincwadi box as a starting point. Where libraries already existed, we would donate the books to fill their shelves. The story of Nozincwadi was published in a book and was accompanied by a story & music CD, co-produced with Bheki Khoza, that became the sound track of the roadshow. The roadshow touched so many lives of people young and old, those who have recently learnt to read and write. Dr Mhlophe says: “When I visit schools in rural South Africa, I see myself in those children. I’ve been there, that’s where I come from: Reading inspired me to think and dream BIG. I would like to share this experience with everybody who is feeling despondent with their personal situation right now”
The campaign later transformed into one that does school library makeovers, in which case a big group of volunteers travel to a designated school and renovate a room into a functional library with necessary equipment. On occasion creative writing and storytelling workshops are also included for the schools to have a sense of ownership and enjoyment of the literature they now have access to. Books donated to these libraries are predominantly written by African and South African authors to celebrate African thought and indigenous languages. It is very important for us that our children see themselves in the books they read. The campaign has impacted over 500 schools nationally over the years and the library makeovers are now predominantly based in KwaZulu Natal. Though a lack of funding sometimes halts the campaign we depend largely on sponsors such as the NAC, DSAC, Kingdom Slots and Buckmann, to name a few, to continue doing this important work.
Dr Gcina Mhlophe
In today’s world, literacy and reading are the keys that open the doors to the global village. We say this is the age of computers, but sophisticated computers and all sorts of modern forms of media are useless to a country that does not invest in the literacy of its people. This is why I am ready to dedicate my creativity and time to make a difference in the lives of rural people, particularly children whose situation might seem hopeless”
Spirit of Light Celebration
This celebration of lights and people who personify light in our nation happens annually on the 8th of March, International Women’s Day. The annual Spirit of Light event has been hosted at various venues in Durban since 2013, some of our major supporters being the Diakonia Centre, Durban Music School and the ICC Durban, under their CSI initiatives. Women in particular, both established and emerging in their respective fields are invited as speakers to share their journeys and how they have become a positive influence in society. So often we hear bad news on television and even the news that goes viral in our smaller circles is negative. With this event, GAHT aims to remind people of the amount of good work that is being done by people in all walks of life.
The event has grown to also actively engage empowered men as well as youth to come together and share their experiences. The 2014 event included the organization called, Brothers for Life and the 2015 event introduced “Women In The Making” where young women were given a platform to be seen and heard. We have welcomed the likes of: Dr Vela Maseko, Dr Brigalia Bam, Dr Devi Rajab, Canadian pianist composer - Julie Blue, Cwengi Myeni, Dr Albertina Luthuli, General Vicky Mekute, Alison Reuiters from eThekwini Museums, Noel Kok from NEWF and Major General Mandisa Mfeka – SA Air force first black female fighter jet pilot, to name a few. The Spirit of Light culminates in a lighting of candles ceremony once the sun has set while the song Lizalis’idinga lakho is led by a choir, a song significant in our nation’s history. This part of the event is done to honour people who have made a positive impact in our national history and personal lives. Although they are no longer with us, they continue to inspire us. Many have described this event as the feeling of “bathing in a lake of positivity”.
The Storytelling Tree
This project began in August of 2019 in Durban in at The Bluff Showgrounds. One of the oldest universal spaces of people coming together has been under a tree, whether to have meetings, make important decisions or to share stories and music. To this effect, Dr Mhlophe has long searched for a tree that would bring back that ancestral spirit. After many meetings with the city of eThekwini, permission was granted for the wild fig tree on the Bluff to be that place where people of different ages and backgrounds could come together. This has included monthly storytelling, traditional music, history-telling, poetry readings, origami workshops and more. A loyal audience has been growing steadily and audience participation has happened organically, proving how very comfortable people have felt in this space. EThekwini library services and the Department of Living Cultures have been on the journey with us from the very beginning.
The Storytelling tree is also where the inaugural National Storytelling Day, 24th October, was hosted by Gcinamasiko Arts & Heritage Trust, in 2019! We were honoured by the presence of audiences, dignitaries and performers who travelled from around the country, as well as a lot of media interest. Some guests of honour included Prof Ntombana from NMU and Dr Lindiwe Mabuza, former South African ambassador to many countries. In add addition to this, several other cities celebrated along with us, sharing their events in the digital space. The Storytelling Tree is a space that allows for intergenerational interaction and learning and also reintroduces the idea of being able to have fun together, regardless of age and background. There is always a book reading either by or for the children who attend from all around KZN. It also has an open mic session at the end of the event for any youth starting new projects than shine a light in society and wish to share with everyone there. Many people of the community say it has brought back some life into an otherwise wasted space as well as a new sense of community. We are happy to say that Storytelling Trees are now sprouting in different places around the country including Empangeni, Pietermatizburg outside the Bessie Head Library, Johannesburg, Polokwane and Cape Town.
We now host events for Africa Day, International Mother Tongue Day, World Book Day and Heritage Day as part of the monthly sessions under that same tree of stories. Since the COVID19 pandemic, we have also begun recordings for social media platforms at the tree to keep the sense of community going and also extend the community globally. We film against the backdrop of the majestic tree and the murals done by Giffy Duminy, Durban's very own. Our international audiences continue to call our offices to express their gratitude for this further accessibility of the tree, even across the oceans.
Arts in Education Seminar
One of the most important elements of learning is enjoyment and somehow we seem to have forgotten that. Many times when we talk about students who want to study in the departments of Humanities and Education they are discouraged and these are called “soft skills”. This could not be further from the truth as a nation without a thriving sense of its culture is like tree without roots. To this end creative arts never fails to bring a sense of enjoyment that leaves and indelible mark in the minds of the learners. Bringing arts into the education space has always been seen as just a recreational break from the “real learning”. But for many years we have met young adults who have valued the impact of learning through art such as Dr Mhlophe’s stories and have shared how this has inspired and impacted their journey to success in different professions. For this reason Gcinamasiko has run arts in education seminars to bring together specialists in education, the media, academics and artists from different genres to engage ways of including more art as a vehicle of teaching. Scholars and students themselves are invited to participate and ask pertinent questions that may have been left out otherwise. This adds valuable input from the people we are aiming to assist in their learning and growth as they have first hand understanding of what reaches their minds and memories. We have held this event at venues such as the Ugu District Municipal Library and The Playhouse Company in Durban.
Honour and Learn from the Heroes & Sheroes of June 16
In South Africa today, we tend to water down the gravity and significance of certain historic events like the uprising of students in 1976 by simply calling it Youth Day. As Gcinamasiko we have felt that there needs to be more emphasis on sharing information about what happened on that day as we owe it not only to those who sacrificed their lives but also those future generations who should never go back to such a hateful place. The seminar was born out of this need to share conversations between young and old. We have been lucky to have people who were there on the day of June 16 1976, sharing their own experiences around the day but also the consequences and what was born out of it. This has given us very rare and personal insight rather than it simply being a recollection of facts and events. We specifically choose a young person to host the seminar in order to highlight what questions the youth of today would like to have answered regarding both the past ad their present experiences. In this way elders also gain insight to the mindset of young activists and everyday people. This conversation is very necessary as often there is a lack of articulate explanation around what exactly angers the different generations and there is a need to clarify these reasons in order to support one another. Attendees have come out grateful for a space that allows the gap between ages and histories to be lessened and finding a language based on listening and building towards a brighter future.
Nozincwadi Storytelling & Book Festival
The very first Nozincwadi Festival was held on the 24th of October 2008 to celebrate Dr Mhlophe’s 50th birthday. What was intended to be a once off event of 450 people at the Playhouse Company Foyer turned out to be a great success and only the beginning. Twenty schools were invited to witness storytellers from Botswana, USA and different provinces all over South Africa. Every single school received a box of books predominantly written by African authors, as a continuation of the literacy campaign. The success of the festival meant that people kept asking when the next festival would be. So we held a second and a third festival and soon realised that scholars enjoy being on stage as much as they love watching from the audience. The festival grew from strength to strength with both professional artists on stage and scholars sharing their talents in a way that relates to that year’s theme. Each year we introduce a new theme: in 2015 it was Africa on the Move, 2016 it was Turning Waste to Wow, 2017 was Look to the Stars (inspired by GAHT’s growing relationship to the Astronomy Centre in Sutherland) and 2018 was The Bones of Memory. The Bones of Memory theme was especially emotional as the artists had to dig deep to find stories from their personal past or family history that spoke to their own connection to what we term, intangible heritage.
The 2018 Festival turned out to be an international festival as we had performers from the UK, USA, Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Lesotho. It was also one of the best organised festivals thanks to our Australian arts in education enthusiast, Helen Radvan, who volunteered her festival coordination skills for two months at our offices. Following on from that many of the artists asked to return for the next festival as well as some other international guests from Jamaica, Reunion Islands, Madagascar, Chile, Cote d’Ivoire, Morocco, India and Surinam. As a result of the magnitude of this festival we chose to dedicate the year of 2019 to more vigorous fundraising. The festival was due to be in October of 2020, culminating on the 24th October, National Storytelling Day. This day not only marks the birthday of GAHT’s founder and South African master storyteller but also the day the United Nations was formed which is significant to us as Durban has been named a UNESCO City of Literature. Our theme for the next festival is Chanting the Bridges, an ode to all who lay down in their respective fields and movements for us to cross on their backs. The COVID19 pandemic has put a hold on our plans for the 2020 festival and as a result our 2020 year focus has shifted to more online content and we are gearing towards some international online seminars with the artists until a time when we can host the live Festival. We keep our gaze on the virtual bridges where we connect with fellow storytellers globally.
Museum of Oral History
This oral history museum for ordinary South Africans has been a lifelong dream of Dr Mhlophe’s. She wishes to have a space in which audio recordings and audio-visual material can be viewed by any South African, but also that these recordings of history are actually by those same people. Rather than repeatedly hearing the great stories of our most respected heroes, there also deserves to be a space that shares the stories of our everyday heroes and sheroes as well as so many knowledges that go missing when generations pass on. It would be a space where especially young people are able to learn about the value in the indigenous knowledge systems and the wealth that sits in the minds of their very own parents and grandparents! Some may even learn information about extended families they did not even know they had. There are digital spaces that serve as virtual memory houses in different parts of South Africa which we intend to collaborate with and highlight at the Memory House to make them more widely accessible. This is intended to be a huge institution of archives, especially in a country whose literature takes its shape in the form of the spoken word.
It would be a space that can live on long after Dr Mhlophe herself and still carry her passion for building the nation through stories and heritage preservation as we continue to evolve and create new traditions and heritages for ourselves. Indigenous knowledge systems are now more often talked about at academic institutions and conferences but hardly come alive where ordinary citizens come together and contribute. When we bring together those shared memories and narratives in a way that anyone can understand, we are playing our part in nation building and the preservation of its intangible heritage. The fundraising initiative for this museum has had many ups and downs and as a result we have had a few false starts over the years. Still, we refuse to give up on this seemingly personal dream of Dr Mhlophe’s, but it is really a dream for a nation seeking to honour and celebrate itself. We are in the throws of creating a small incubator space to begin archiving the information while our elders are still with us, until we are able to house the project in a more suitable and permanent premises. We would greatly appreciate any sponsorship or donation for this project, including recorded interviews, memoirs or photographs of pioneers from all walks of life. Should you be interested in getting involved, please feel free to contact us.
In support of the Memory House Oral History Museum