South Africa is rich in culture and heritage and one of the ways this heritage can be preserved is through oral storytelling – a beautiful and powerful art. This Heritage Day, the Nal’ibali Cluster Mentors reflect on their own heritage as storytellers, the stories they were told while growing up, and the importance of preserving this tradition as a vital tool in literacy development.
David Jeffery is the Nal’ibali Cluster Mentor for the Western Cape. His parents told him stories from their past as he was growing up, and although these stories weren’t strictly fiction, they were always made very entertaining. “My mother always used to say that you must never let the facts get in the way of a good story!” David believes community heritage and unity can be preserved and promoted through the sharing of stories, such as iintsomi’s or folk tales, and hopes that through initiatives like the Nal’ibali Reading Clubs, storytelling will be once again become popular.
Bongani Godide, a professional storyteller and Cluster Mentor for Nal’ibali in Gauteng, has been working to preserve and grow the magic of storytelling to develop children’s literacy. As a child, he was told stories by his grandfather – mostly about his days growing up amongst the gangsters of old Sophiatown. Bongani is concerned that storytelling is no longer common in his community (Soweto), but believes the tradition will resurface in new forms. “Storytelling traditions have almost died away, but, mostly through poetry events, we have seen a new development of storytelling. This helps stories to find their way back into this urban jungle.”
Rinae Sikhware is a storyteller and the Nal’ibali Cluster Mentor in Limpopo. “My special memories are mainly from the times around the fire place with my grandmother telling me stories about herself growing up in a small village. All the stories she told me were aimed at encouraging me to be a strong woman who is responsible and hardworking.” Rinae learnt a lot of her family – and community’s - history through stories, such as those about King Mphephu and the Anglo-Boer War. “These stories are valuable because they teach children so much about their history as human beings; they ensure that our children understand the importance of preserving information and also learn about other people and their cultures.”
Nal’ibali Cluster Mentor Kay-Lee Esterhuizen, from Oceanview, says the heritage stories she values most are those told by the local elderly about her community’s history – such as the stories about the forced removals. “I feel that these sorts of stories are really valuable and precious, and need to be passed on to the younger generations”, explains Kay-Lee. Kay-Lee is hoping to bring the tradition of storytelling back to her community, in new forms and using technology. “Because of technology now, you do not find families telling stories together. However, stories are still being told on radio, such as in the Nal’ibali story time slots, and these stories help to role model the tradition for others and keep it alive.”
Tsepiso Nyazo is the Nal’ibali Cluster Mentor in the Eastern Cape. He remembers his grandfather and uncle telling him stories as young boy growing up in Port Elizabeth – stories which came to life when he visited his family’s hometown, Grahamstown. Tsepiso believes that storytelling has an important role to play in children’s development. “I think we should be careful not to lose our storytelling tradition, as it allows children to be imaginative and gives them the chance to learn about their own histories and to tell their own stories.”
This post can be seen on The Sowetan (24 September 2013).