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.

Gcina Mhlophe will be delivering a keynote address reflecting on the contributions of African women in addressing the challenges of the 21st century.

She chats to us about the festival.

Mam Gcina

What made you decide to go into African story telling?

It felt like a calling after 8 years of full time theatre and `i’ve never been happier.  And sharing our stories made it much clearer to me how universal the themes and messages in African folklore really are. Everywhere I’ve been  I’ve connected heart to heart with people of different cultures.

How do you bring back the joys of African tales to children?

When I have children as my audience I treat them with the speciality and love that made me fall in love with the stories in the first place. Im not just a performer, I’m an older sister, an aunt, mom and grandmother. The pride and joy I feel inside me, I work very hard to make sure its infectious to my audience. And by the way I don’t only perform to children, my audience starts from 3 to 93 years old. Whole families can come and each person finds something that speaks to them from these stories.

What’s your stance on African tradition, specially your own?

African traditions and culture carry forth ancient wisdoms, remember this is the continent of beginnings, where all mankind came from. Some people from overseas say they falling in love with Africa, they’ve been beaten by the African bug and I tell them there is no African bug, it is the umbilical cord remembering. My culture, my heritage give me strength to stand up tall amongst other people of the world without having to emulate anyone, this is what I always want to share with younger people of my country.

What do you think of Africa being so westernized? Do you think we’re going too fast with the changes?

Yes Africa is becoming more and more Westernised, especially South Africa but there is still so much that has survived that we deeply identify with.  Our challenge is to make it our responsibility to keep these cultures alive, not just on special days like Heritage month or Africa day. I hear many adults criticising the children about losing their Africaness I say what are we as adults doing about it? Are we walking the talk? The honers is on all of us, mothers, fathers, teachers, preachers, leaders and prominent people in society to lead by example. Children watch more than they listen. There’s nothing wrong with us moving with the times especially where technology is concerned. The same applies to economic empowerment but that doesn’t mean we must lose our sense of identity. Fast or slow we have to stay African and culture doesn’t stay the same its very dynamic you have to also bare that in mind.


How do we make children excited about their own culture? Considering that most kids aren't allowed to speak their own languages at school.

We celebrate them ourselves and they learn from us, I repeat we walk the talk and lead by example. If we do not speak our African languages who will they learn from, starting by pronouncing their own names and learning the meaning thereof. If we don’t love our own languages and speak them with a sense of pride, we can’t blame them if they do not love their mother tongues. `many grandparents sit for long hours alone longing to spend time with their grandchildren but

What can we expect from you at the Essence festival?

At the Essesce Festival I will be Key Note Speaker on November 10th at the Opening of the Book Fair with authors from South Africa , the African Continent and other countries.

On the 11 I have a morning performance -  storytelling with music

On the 13, i am available all day to perform stories and do book signing. There will be a GCINAMASIKO ARTS & HERITAGE Trust Table where we will be selling my Books and CD’s.

Please share 5 things that we don’t know about you.

  1.  I love Tortoises, Turtles and every creature of that same family. I call them my family
  2.  I am addicted to honey ! No way I can ever live without honey
  3. Gardening is one of my favourite pastimes,  it helps calm me down and feel connected to mother Earth,  I even have a Peace Garden at my home
  4. The Ocean feeds my soul -  it is the great representation of Qamata, my Creator’s constant presence - that it why I prayed, worked and finally acquired a home in front of the Ocean. How blessed is that ?
  5. Reflexology - specialised foot massage - yes ! That is the best.
  6. Finally and most importantly :  I had a child at the age of 38 !  At that point I had almost given up, but my God said  No, You shall be a mother.  So I named her NOMAKHWEZI,  the morning star,  my brand new beginning.