Our #WCW today is Sindiwe Magona.
She was born on 23 August 1943, and became the eldest of 8 children in her village of Gungululu in rural Eastern Cape. She never completed matric, and fell pregnant at the age of 19. Magona was allowed to teach, as the bantu school system deprioritised the teaching of black learners, but lost her job after her third pregnancy when she was 23.
After her husband left her with the three children and an incomplete education she turned to domestic work where she was forced to sleep on a garage floor. During the time she finished high-school by correspondence and went on to register for a degree through UNISA.
Her improved qualifications enabled her to teach at Herschel Girls School for five years, during which time she won a scholarship to do her Masters at Columbia University. Magona later worked for the UN for 23 years on their anti-apartheid radio station while also authoring many literary pieces.
She published her first book in 1990, and has since written a wealth of novels, poetry and children’s books.
Magona is one of many internationally prominent South African writers whose work is informed by her experience of impoverishment, femininity, resistance to subjugation and being a domestic worker. She traversed South Africa’s racially-defined socio-cultural-economic spaces while simultaneously being a mother, wife and community leader in a township. These interlaced themes and realities are pronounced throughout her literary career.
She has produced various plays and continues to lecture and deliver key addresses at universities and conferences, both locally and internationally. Until her retirement in 2003, she contributed immeasurably in various capacities to the work of the United Nations (UN), an organisation she served for 20 years.
Magona is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Molteno Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement for her role in promoting isiXhosa, the Permio Grinzane Terre D’Otrantro, and the Department of Arts and Culture Literary Lifetime Achievement Award (all three received in 2007); 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 the UNdimande Grand Prize. The Hartwick College of New York conferred her with an honorary doctorate in 1993. She was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize in 2009.
We honor her today as our #WCW.