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Celebrating elders as storytellers

As Africans, we have a deep history of storytelling and one that is in danger of being left behind as we move into an increasingly digital way of life. To celebrate the power of storytelling, Nal’ibali, the national reading-for-enjoyment campaign, recently ran a countrywide storytelling talent search, Story Bosso. In the process of inviting all South Africans, young and old, to share their stories, it highlighted the value of elders in providing a wealth of stories, including Masiphumelele’s own Nowelile Nomfenge.

“Nowelile is a confident and inspiring storyteller. We first met her at the Noncedo Old Age Club in Masiphumelelele. Realising her talent, we invited her to come and share her stories on stage at a public event later that month. The audience loved her and were hanging on her every word,” commented Thulisa Mayekiso, a Nal’ibali Literacy Mentor and key driver in rolling out the Story Bosso talent search in Cape Town's South Peninsula.

Nowelile Nomfenge

And, not only is oral storytelling entertaining and an important way of passing on cultural values and history, it is a vital tool in literacy development too. Stories provide children with a richness of language and the concepts they need for successful learning at school, and to engage meaningfully with narrative concepts.

Nomfenge affirmed her own belief in the importance of sharing stories, saying: “When stories are told, there are always valuable lessons to be learned; ones that teach you about life, and the great thing is that young listeners are able to figure out these lessons without having to be told directly.”

True to her word, Nomfenge’s Story Bosso entry contained a message to the next generation to not neglect things just because they are no longer useful to them. Now 63, Nowelile first heard the story from her mother, and, although she did not understand it at the time, it stuck with her and she has come to appreciate its significance later in her life.

“There are sad stories and happy stories and by telling those stories we are teaching our children and each other that we come across difficult situations in life, but that doesn’t spell the end of the world. No, life goes on! And, moreover, we can learn from the mistakes the characters have made and avoid similar situations,” Nomfenge continued.

Her passion for story and belief in its power echoes that of the Nal’ibali campaign, which aims to spark the potential of all South Africa’s children through reading and storytelling. Anyone can tell a story, any time, anywhere, as reflected in the Story Bosso drive.

“I hope that Nowelile will continue to share her stories and that the community now realises what an important asset they have in their older members. There is so much wisdom to be gained from their stories and all we need to do as the recipients is relax and listen!” concludes Mayekiso.

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