Gcina Mhlope’s biography, fact, career, awards, net worth and life story

Intro South African writer
Is Actor
From South Africa
Type Film, TV, Stage & Radio
Gender female

24 October 1958, Durban, eThekwini, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Age 62 years
Star sign Scorpio

Nokugcina Elsie Mhlophe (born 1958) is a well-known South African anti-apartheid activist, actress, storyteller, poet, playwright, director and author. Storytelling is a deeply traditional activity in Africa and Mhlophe is one of the few woman storytellers in a country dominated by males. She does her work through charismatic performances, working to preserve storytelling as a means of keeping history alive and encouraging South African children to read. She tells her stories in four of South Africa’s languages: English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa.

Life and career

Gcina was born in 1958 in KwaZulu-Natal to a Xhosa mother and a Zulu father. She started her working life as a domestic servant, later working as a newsreader at the Press Trust and BBC Radio, then as a writer for Learn and Teach, a magazine for newly-literate people.

Several experiences inspired Mhlophe to turn to a career as storyteller. She credits her storytelling ability to her grandmother, who brought her up in Durban. Mhlophe says, “My grandmother taught me everything about telling stories. When I was growing up, half the kids in our neighbourhood would come and spend the evening at home so that they could listen to izinganekwane (tales).”

She began to get a sense of the demand for stories while in Chicago in 1988. She performed at a library in a mostly-black neighbourhood, where an ever-growing audience kept inviting her back. Still, Mhlophe only began to think of storytelling as a career after meeting an Imbongi, one of the legendary poets of African folklore, and after encouragement by Mannie Manim, the then-director of the Market Theatre, Johannesburg.

Since then Mhlophe has appeared in theatres from Soweto to London and much of her work has been translated into German, French, Italian, Swahili and Japanese. Mhlophe has travelled extensively in Africa and other parts of the world giving storytelling workshops.

Mhlophe’s stories meld folklore, information, current affairs, song and idiom. The realisation of her dreams is a visceral motivator for her and she is passing on her infectious enthusiasm by developing young talent to carry forward the work of storytelling through the Zanendaba (Bring me a story) Initiative. This initiative, established in 2002, is a collaboration with the Market Theatre and READ, a national literacy organization.

Mhlophe currently serves as the patron of the ASSITEJ South Africa, the International Association for Theatre for Children and Young People.

Mhlophe focuses on making books available to poor South African rural communities by making sure that libraries are built, and making sure they are stocked with locally and culturally relevant books. Mhlophe currently serves as the patron of ASSITEJ South Africa, the International Association for Theatre for Children and Young People.

Selected works

  • 1983, took the lead in Umongikazi: The Nurse, by Maishe Maponya
  • 1984, acted in Black Dog: Inj’emnyama
  • 1986, Place of Weeping (film)
  • 1986, Have You Seen Zandile? (autobiographical play, at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg, Mhlophe as Zandile)
  • 1987, Born in the RSA (New York)
  • 1989, storytelling festival at the Market Theatre (there have been many since then)
  • 1989, performed a praise poem in honour of Nokukhanya Luthuli, 1961 Nobel Peace Prize winner
  • 1990, performed Have You Seen Zandile? at the Edinburgh Festival
  • Toured Have You Seen Zandile? through Europe and the USA
  • 1989–1990, resident director at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg
  • co-ordinator at READ, a national literacy organization
  • 1991, Ashoka Fellowship (social entrepreneurship innovator)
  • 1993, Music for Little People (CD)
  • 1993, reader voice Not so fast, Songololo (videorecording), Weston Woods, Weston CT, Scholastic [1]
  • 1994, The Gift of the Tortoise (contributed to the Ladysmith Black Mambazo album)
  • 1997, Poetry Africa, presenting poet
  • 1999, guest speaker at the Perth Writers Festival
  • Philharmonic Orchestra (London)
  • Royal Albert Hall (London)
  • Cologne Philharmonie, Africa at the Opera
  • Honorary doctorate from the London Open University
  • Honorary doctorate from the University of Natal
  • Lectureships at various universities
  • 2000, performed in Peter und der Wolf at the Komische Oper (Berlin)
  • Wrote music for her SABC TV series Gcina & Friends
  • 2002, Fudukazi’s Magic screened in Durban at the African Union Film Festival
  • 2002, The Bones of Memory (performance, history-telling from the old and new South Africa)
  • 2003, lectured on storytelling at the Eye of the Beholder seminar
  • 2003, Mata Mata (performance, family musical)
  • 2006, FIFA World Cup South African handover ceremony, Germany


  • Pops Mohamed, musician and tribal music preservationist
  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo, choir group, The Gift of the Tortoise (CD), 1994 and Music for Little People in America (CD), 1993
  • Bheki Khoza, guitarist, Animated Tales of the World (TV series for Right Angle in the UK and for the SABC)
  • Anant Singh, video producer, Fudukazi’s Magic (CD and video for German audiences)
  • Biblionef South Africa, a children’s book donation agency, supplies book packages for Mhlophe’s workshops, 2003

Documentary appearances

  • Acted and narrated in Travelling Songs
  • 1990, performed poetry in Songolo: voices of change (how aspects of culture in South Africa have become part of the anti-apartheid struggle)
  • 1993, The Travelling Song (the contemporary process of story gathering)
  • Appeared in Literacy Alive
  • Appeared in Art Works


  • Nominee for the Noma Award for Queen of the Tortoises, 1991
  • Book Chat Award for Molo Zoleka
  • OBIE Theatrical Award (New York) for Born in the RSA
  • Fringe First Award (Edinburgh) for Have you seen Zandile?
  • Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Actress (Chicago) for Have you seen Zandile?
  • Sony Award for Radio Drama from BBC Radio Africa for Have you seen Zandile?
  • In 2016 she was chosen as one of BBC’s 100 Women