Sindiwe Magona was born on 23 August 1943, in the village of Gungululu in rural Eastern Cape (formerly Transkei). The first born of eight children, Magona earned her secondary and undergraduate education by correspondence, and later won a scholarship to study for her Master’s Degree in Social Work at Columbia University in the United States of America.
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.
A former primary school teacher and civil servant, she is a prolific author who has produced nine books, among them an autobiographical work, a collection of short stories, novellas and an anthology of poetry.
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.
Even in retirement, she continues to pen literary works, to initiate writers’ conferences, lead women’s rights advocacy groups and write children’s educational books. Among her internationally acclaimed works are Beauty’s Gift; Living, Loving, and Lying Awake at Night; To My Children’s Children; Teach Yourself Xhosa; and Push-Push and Other Stories. Her plays include I Promised Myself a Fabulous Middle-Age and Vukani.
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.
She remains an accomplished motivational speaker, author, poet, playwright and story-teller in South Africa. Many of Ms Magona’s essays, short stories and poems have been anthologised. She has been published in, among other publications, the New York Times, The New Internationalist, Fair Lady, Oprah Magazine and Femina.
She is also recognised for her work in women’s issues, the plight of children and the fight against apartheid and racism. Ms Magona is the founder and Executive Director of South Africa 2033. A worker for peaceful change during the years of struggle in South Africa, she was one of the founding members of the Women’s Peace Movement in 1976.
With her inspiration and encouragement, the Gugulethu Writers’ Group meets once a month and nurtures new writers. The group has already published a collection of short stories, Umthi ngamnye unentlaka yawo, and won First Prize in the Maskew Miller Longman Story Competition in 2009.
In recognition of her literary and humanitarian contribution, the State President, Jacob G Zuma, conferred Sindiwe Magona with the Order of Ikhamanga in Bronze on 27 April 2011.