As Gcina Mhlophe dances onto stage her voice echoes with wisdom and experience and and all attention is drawn in as she tells stories of her life as a black woman in apartheid. I was priveliged to see Gcina Mhlophe perform her stories about life as a young black woman during Apartheid, when I was 13. She performed with such passion and expression that her stories and poetry came to life. Her words were influential and powerful and she presented them with song and dance proudly in a variety of South African languages.
Gcina Mhlolphe was born in Durban Kwazulu natal in 1959. She grew up in the Transkei in a time of apartheid and racial seggregation. She is well known for her short stories and african fables, many with strong apartheid refernce and others being traditional African stories influenced by her childhood. As well as her powerful words she is also well known for her vibrant storytelling as she performs them. One of her most famous short stories is The Toilet. The Toilet is a story of a young black girl in Apartheid South Africa, Mhlolo.
Mhlolo's sister works for a white family. It talks about how the sisters live in a shak whilst the White employer lives a lavish lifestyle, and of the poor treatement of the 'servant' by their white employers due to their race. When Mhlolo sneaks back to her sisters house every night she is petrified of being caught by the employer and of their savage dog. But mostly the story is of how Mhlolo sits in the public toilet in the park every morning before she catches her bus and writes.
It is her time to sing and think and express herself. Being a woman at the time, it was not conventional for woman to be writers or to express individuality and more so because of her race. In the toilet she can be herself, not as a lesser being or as a dog, as portrayed. She can do what she is passionate about, writing. One 8day she arrives at her toilet to write and it has been locked, Mhlolo then goes a d sig on a bench to write and adapts the area to become her new space to write.
The story is anti-apartheid and protest in a subtle story-like manner as it uses symbolisms instead of direct referral, for example the dogs in the story can be representational of the governmentand the black man's fear for government and the toilet shows the desperation of the black people to have something of their own something to be proud of and call their own. What makes Mhlophe so successful is her use of personal stories and intimate storytelling and therefore evokes emotion. Mhlophe evokes true sympathy and can stir feeling and emotion not only in her personal stories and style of storg telling but also in her influencial poetry.
These are a few stanzas from Mhlopes poem 'Say No', it steps away from her gentle apartheid stories and gakesa standagainst Apartheid. What makes Mhlophe so interesting to me is that she, first of all, as a black woman, like mhlolo in hef story, is living in a time of racial and gender diicrimination yet she is still so expressive and didnt allow it to stop her from writing and voicing her opinions.
And like in the locking of the toilet being like the government tryimg to control the thoughts and moveme ts of the blck people in apartheid Mhlophe carried on expressing herself and fou d a way to be heard in a ti e of great suppression. Secondly she gives the powerto the woman. In the poem 'Say No' she is telling the blck women of South Africa to say no to ill treatment and gives them the role and the power to no sit back and accept the discrimination they have been dealt but rather to fight and oppose as Mhlophe did herself. Mhlophe's work related closely to the characteristics of the work at this time.
Anti-apartheid poetry and stories were very personal and spoke of personal experience. Mhlophe brings in her own life struggles and stories. In her poem 'Sometimes When it rains' Mhlophe expresses hardship through her experiences and reflection. Sometimes when it rains I think of times when we had to undress carry the small bundles of uniforms and books on our heads and cross the river after school. Sometimes when it rains rains for days without break I think of mothers who give birth in squatter camps under plastic shelters at the mercy of cold angry winds.
This style of writing tipifys the characteristics of African poetry and story as it creates a personal link between reader and narrator and presents it in a story form. Her writing in 'Say No' also portrays the protest style of anti- aparheid, african poetry, in her defensive style. To be captivated at so young by a woman speaking about a time period I was never a part of shows how spectacular Gcina Mhlophe is. Her enthusiastic personality in performing arts and her deep message in her written work makes her a greatly influencial and inspiring woman. Her light hearted stories bring such joy yet so much insight.