This profile was prepared when Gcina Mhlope was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1992.
The New Idea
Gcina's mission is to restore and develop Africa's stories and the art of storytelling-as an art form and educational tool. She collects stories from all regions of South Africa, which she presents at the storytelling festivals she organizes throughout the country. She works to restore the importance of storytelling in the life of the country and to develop it into a professional art form. Gcina expands on traditional storytelling through her development of characters, dramatization of stories, and use of handmade puppets, toys and masks. Her reliance on audience participation appeals to people of all ages and nationalities. She tells stories in four different languages to groups ranging from nursery schools to literacy organizations, teacher training colleges, universities and unions. She is also experimenting with recording, illustration, animation, and shadow puppetry, which she calls rural television. There is an enthusiastic and growing audience for traditional stories. All school libraries in South Africa now carry the English edition of one of her books, The Snake With Seven Heads, which has also been translated into five African languages. Literacy campaigns in South Africa also use her works. Gcina has shown that storytelling is a useful tool in reforming the current authoritarian teaching methods of South Africa. Storytelling engages both students and teachers in creative thinking exercises and can be easily applied to teach history, language, and communication skills.