Music, speakers and storytelling at the Essence Festival

2016-10-30 10:53
Gcina Mhlophe
Gcina Mhlophe (Photo: Supplied)

Cape Town -  Durban will be host to South Africa’s first Essence Festival, running from November 8 to 13.

The annual festival, which is a long-running feature of New Orleans in the US, will showcase well-known local and US performers, artists and world-famous speakers, including Steve Harvey and Al Sharpton. Part of the programme will be the ARTiculate Africa Exhibition at the Durban International Convention Centre from November 10 to 11.

The ARTiculate Africa programme aims to engage professionals, the public and traders, as well as literature and visual arts enthusiasts, on industry best practices.

On Thursday, November 10, at the opening of the book fair that will be held at the festival, multitalented activist, performer, writer and director Gcina Mhlophe will be delivering a keynote address reflecting on the contributions of African women in addressing the challenges of the 21st century.

“As an author, I am thrilled that the City of Durban has included books as part of the programme,” says Mhlophe, who has released her own set of children’s books and adult-audience poetry.

“I am very keen to engage with the audience. We need to encourage people, not only those who are just beginning in the industry, but also experienced writers who have something to share with others. Up-and-coming writers vary in ages and come from different backgrounds, so I encourage workshops like this.”

Mhlophe, whose name is synonymous with her vibrant storytelling techniques, has managed to captivate South African audiences for the past 20 years. Born in Hammarsdale in KwaZulu-Natal, the 58-year-old playwright developed a knack for the written word when she was still in school. “When I was much younger, I started writing because I had a love for languages, and my best friend became my pen and paper. I would write about my insecurities and about feeling lost, especially after I went to boarding school.”

Mhlophe began her high school years at a boarding school in the Eastern Cape, Mfundisweni Senior Secondary School, where she had to learn to speak and understand the local Nguni language, isiXhosa.

“Mfundo means education in isiZulu and isiXhosa. Because I was so far away from home, I took to writing to help curb my loneliness and feelings of insecurity. I also made it my business to learn the languages.” Today Mhlophe is fluent in English, Afrikaans, isiZulu and isiXhosa and can also converse in Sesotho.

After completing her schooling, Mhlophe went on to do a short course in journalism at Rhodes University, which was to become the foundation of the rest of her career in broadcasting. “I couldn’t afford to complete a full undergraduate degree, so I studied journalism, knowing that I was inspired by a curious mind.”

Perhaps best known for hosting her popular SABC TV children’s show, Gcina & Friends, Mhlophe flourished as an African folklore storyteller to audiences across the nation. She believes that, despite the work being done by NGOs and the department of education to enhance the use of local literature and reading within schools, there is still lots to be done to increase reading in underprivileged communities across the nation.

“I believe that, no matter what, people have to work hard for what they want, and believe in themselves. Every outreach project that I am a part off, we always ensure that we give books to whichever school we are at.”

The ARTiculate Africa Exhibition’s events are free and open to the public, and run from 09:00 to 18:00. Tickets for Essence can be bought at for between R200 and R450.

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