Sindiwe Magona

“A has-been at the age of 23” is how Sindiwe Magona described her younger self in her 1992 autobiography, Forced to Grow.

“I was a primary school teacher and, because I fell pregnant, I got suspended,” she says, by way of explanation. “So, you’re pregnant with your third child and your husband has left you. Guess what you are in the eyes of the community I came from? So, you know, I had to work around those handicaps that society imposes on you as a young woman.”

Forced to become a domestic worker, the author has successfully managed to work around these imposed handicaps. An internationally recognised author, her work deals with “impoverishment, femininity, resistance to subjugation and being a domestic worker”.

With numerous books, novellas, a collection of short stories and an anthology of poetry under her belt, she has also received several awards. Among them are: the Molteno Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement for her role in promoting
isiXhosa, the Permio Grinzane Terre D’Otrantro, the department of arts and culture Literary Lifetime Achievement Award, the Bronx Recognises Its Own Fiction Award in 2000, a Fellowship for Non-Fiction from the New York Foundation of the Arts, the Xhosa Heroes Award, and she was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2009.

A founding member of the Women’s Peace Movement in 1976 and a motivational speaker, she was also conferred with the Order of Ikhamanga in Bronze in 2011 for her literary and humanitarian contributions.

Magona is acutely aware of the social structures that continue to inhibit women. “Under the guise of tradition, a lot of unsavoury traits are still with us,” she says. “People will say ‘this is tradition’, but tradition is not God-made. It is something society made, so it can be changed. And it does change with time. But things don’t change overnight.”

It should come as little surprise that, for Magona, an important part of women’s arsenal in pushing for change is the telling of their stories.

“If you don’t tell your story, it will never be known. And not only to those you are telling it to. It is in the telling that you learn what it is you have undergone. When you start telling your story, you have some idea of what you want to say. But as you tell, you also learn.

“You as the agent, the subject who went through an experience; it is in telling that story that you relive it with some distance and objectivity. You revisit that story, but you are a different person. It is very important for women to tell their stories, because in sharing, each woman learns, ‘it is not me only’.”

Through sharing her story Magona has built up a dedicated following. “I have the good fortune of people always affirming me — women and men; young and old. Last night, we had a celebration for my 75th birthday. And people spoke so beautifully about how I have inspired them. And this means so much to me. Because one of the reasons I started writing was for people to see what it was like to be me, an ordinary person born of humble parentage; what it was like to live through apartheid as a black African child who happens to be female. You see, I write to leave footprints.” 

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Carl Collison
Carl Collison
Carl Collison is a freelance journalist who focuses primarily on covering queer-related issues across Africa

‘My biggest fear was getting the virus and dying in...

South African Wuhan evacuee speaks about his nine-week ordeal

Border walls don’t stop viruses, but a blanket amnesty might

Why South Africa should consider amnesty for undocumented migrants in the time of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mail & Guardian needs your help

Our job is to help give you the information we all need to participate in building this country, while holding those in power to account. But now the power to help us keep doing that is in your hands

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories