Nise Malange was born in 1960, in Cape Town Western Province (now Western Cape Province), South Africa and grew up in Clovelly. As a young teenager she became fascinated and involved in the trade union work of her uncle Rev. Marawu. She attended school first in Elsies River then in Nyanga East, but in 1975 was sent off to the Transkei (Eastern Cape) to escape the dangerous influences of township living. The change was a welcome one.
When I was leaving Cape Town,” she recalls, “the only thing in my heart was that I’m going to have very fresh food and live a life where I won’t see a policeman, no thugs, no harassments. Collecting dung of the cow was a hobby to me instead of going to a shop to buy cobra floor polish, and making our own samp was marvelous.
Two years later however she was back in Cape Town, where she lived through the 1976 student uprising. In September of that year she returned to the Transkei just before its independence on 26 October. For refusing to take part in the Transkei Independece celebrations and for expressing support for the protests back in Cape Town, Malange was expelled along with many of her classmates.
In 1977 she moved to Queenstown, a newly formed township in the Ciskei. She describes it as the time in which she started taking politics incredibly seriously, after visiting the newly independent Transkei and witnessing its resultant impoverishment.
So people were starving. We saw many graves. About 300 kids were dying there. Being just buried like soldiers. People were eating baboons. It was terrible – terrible – it was very, very terrible, so I [became] … more politicized.
During this time Malange was also introduced to cultural work, and took up writing plays with other children during school holidays. She formed a small group of student-actors with her brothers that performed socio-political sketches on topics like the 1976/7 student rebellions, Transkei Independence and informing people of the cultural and consumer boycotts. These performances took place in the streets and community centres.
In 1982 she moved to Howick, Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal), to live with family. There she immediately became involved in cultural work, hoping to meet people that shared her hopes and beliefs around worker mobilisation.
She contributed to the final stages of the Dunlop Play, an early union play that used workshop theatre techniques to convey common experiences of workers at Dunlop. The play’s intention was to raise awareness of their struggles, galvanise union aims and unite workers in fighting for them. During production she attended all the meetings at the Gale Street union offices where she partook in discussions around the educational and therapeutic importance of workshop plays. Members resolved not to wait for significant conflicts to arise, as the case had been with the Dunlop Play, but to maintain an ongoing process of reflecting worker issues on all levels.
Malange, Alfred Qabula and Naftal Matiwane began to workshop a new play called Why Lord, in collaboration with Ari Sitas from the Culture and Working Life Project, Elias Banda from National Union of Textile worker (NUTW, then ACTWUSA, now SACTWU), and later Jabu Ndlovu from Paper Wood and Allied Workers Union (PWAWU, now CEPPWAWU). Malange directed the workshops towards developing personal accounts where everyone involved contributed their own bits of writing. The theme of migrancy emerged organically, [she said,] “We collected all our experiences with migrancy, personal ones and those we had heard about from others. We had lots of talks on the life of migrants.” The story came out of what they perceived to be common amongst migrant workers: that migrants generally pretend they don’t have a wife back home that they were largely illiterate and had to rely on others for help.
Why Lord created the recognition that plays were an exciting medium for raising trade union campaigns and illustrating strategies. It also showed that workers were serious about culture, and that it had a functional role to play in their emancipation. The response was incredibly positive: “People took it seriously”, she recounts, “They saw it as something practical. Not just a play.”
Malange worked extensively within the labour movement, serving in many roles including as an Administrator, Educator, and Organizer and was responsible for the complaints services of the Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU), which was arguably succeeded by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).
Malange has a Creative Writing Diploma and has specialized in scriptwriting, film and video production in Zimbabwe. She is a scriptwriter, theatre director and a published poet. She runs creative writing workshops with youth and children who are victims of violence and abuse. Malange is the former Trustee and Vice chairperson of Arts and Culture Trust (ACT). She is also the former member of the board of the Institute for Inter-Ethnic Relations, a national body initiated by Durban based business, academics, educators, politicians and artists against racism and ethnicism. She is a Steering Committee member for the Africa Chapter of International Network for Cultural Diversity (INCD) based in Canada and a member of the KwaZulu- Natal United Music Industry Association (KUMISA).
Malange has also been actively involved in negotiations and discussions regarding the future restructuring of cultural organizations and policy formulation, for example for the Natal Performing Arts Council (NAPAC). She was the National Arts Coalition-convener of the Art within the Community Task Group, KwaZulu Natal Arts Policy Task Group and the KwaZulu Natal RDP Task Group.
She has served as a Board/Executive member of a number of organizations. Presently, Malange is a member of various editorial collectives and serves as a consultant to numerous organizations and institutions specializing in community newspapers, creative therapy and education project task groups. She has served in the South African Qualification Authority and serves in the Arts and Culture Management Learnership of Create SA. She is also a Trustee of the Arts and Culture Trust, an independent arts funding body.
She is also involved in a number of Peace and conflict resolution initiatives and Women and Children Support Networks. Malange has set up a support group that runs workshops and assists ordinary people to deal with racism and xenophobia problems. She also works with a Durban Based Women Refugee group.
Malange has presented papers at conferences in South Africa, Senegal, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Malawi, United Kingdom, Burkina Faso, Abidjan, Marseilles (France), Shanghai (China), Cuba, Brazil and the United States. Her areas of expertise include cross-cultural communications, conflict resolution and mediation, negotiation skills, project management, project design, workshop facilitation, leadership training, arts events co-ordination, trade union work and the re-dressing of gender imbalances in society.
Malange has facilitated the Umtapo Women’s Leadership Course on the subject of Culture and Tradition. She has facilitated gender workshops for many organizations including the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA). She worked with women who were victims of political violence in the South Coast area of Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal), when violence wracked that Province. Malenge also worked with the University of KwaZulu-Natal conducting gender and racism training for final year students as well as research on issues affecting women and young girls.
She has also produced a three part documentary focusing on Women and Violence in Rural Areas and Women Organizing in the New Democracy. She has worked with both local and international filmmakers who have produced documentaries on women’s issues in S.A.
Presently Malange is Director of the BAT Centre Trust, a private, non-profit organsiation dedicated to promoting the arts in KwaZulu-Natal. She has gained enormous respect, both nationally and internationally, as one of South Africa’s leading arts and cultural practitioners and activist.
Nise Malange remains actively involved in changing lives of women and children through her many projects with street children, refugees, shelters and youth generally within the BAT Centre.
- Black Mamba Rising 1987
- Izinsingizi 1988
- Penguin, Illinois Triquartely
- Fosatu News 1983 -1985
- Cosaw Literature Magazine 1990
- Poetry for Peace 1994
Creative writing publication: Youth publications
- Ayofezeka Amaphupho (Imbali Youth) 1992
- On Common Ground - (an IFP and ANC youth publication) 1995
- Children’s creative writing publication 1998
- Oral history publication
- Book of poems
A. Kotze.(1988) Organise and Act: The Natal Workers Theatre Movement 1983-1987. Durban: Culture and Working Live Publications.
N. Malange and J. Friedrikse. (1985) Nise Malange interview transcript – part 1. SAHA Collections AL2460