Posted on February 27, 2013

The Archival Platform is sad to report that Nokhayo Mhlana, one of our correspondents based in the Eastern Cape passed away suddenly on Sunday 24 February. Our thoughts are with her family, especially her 3 month old daughter Hlelumi at this time. Nokhanyo will be sorely missed by all who knew her, but we know that she will live on in all our hearts and minds.

Asked to describe herself for our 'About' page, Nokhanyo provided the following paragraph:

"Nokhanyo Mhlana, based in Mthatha, is an Advancement Creative at Transkei Land Service Organisation, and holds a degree in Economics from the University of the Free State and diplomas from the Commercial Producers Association the Vega school of Advertising. She has worked on the production of TV/Radio commercials and in rural development with a focus on lobbying and mobilising for land rights in the rural Eastern Cape and food sovereignty. As a qualified Sangoma, she is also a custodian of culture, indigenous knowledge and heritage."


Jo-Anne Duggan and Mbongiseni Buthelezi: We met Nokhanyo for the first time in 2010 at a meeting at the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha. The Archival Platform, through its then deputy director Xolelwa Kashe-Katiya, had organised the meeting to discuss issues with archives stakeholders as a way of taking the temperature on issues archival. Xolelwa had invited Nokhanyo to take part in the workshop as someone involved in issues of land - one kind of archive - and also as a sangoma who was a custodian of a rich ancestral inheritance of knowledge - another kind of archive. Both of the kinds of collections of knowledge that converged in Nokhanyo were just what we were looking for people to think with us and our readers about.

Nokhanyo stood out at the meeting as passionate about everything she said and as someone for whom knowledge was never closed or finite or belonged to one person or set of people and not another. A willingness to play with ideas, words and things shone through. That playfulness, undergirded by a sense of deep wisdom and of being at home inside herself, drew us to pursue Nokhanyo to join our team almost relentlessly. We were relieved when she gradually managed to make space in her life to contribute to our endeavours from time to time. And, as they say, the rest is history: a history of a conversation that felt like it was always ongoing. Even if we had not heard from Nokhanyo in weeks, each new playful email read like a continuation of all the previous ones - always bristling with energy, life, and playfulness. Each message would be signed off with, 'Sending you love and light'.

We got to know Nokhanyo better travelling in the car from Qunu to Mqhekezweni and from Mthatha to Qunu over two days in July last year during events to mark Nelson Mandela's birthday. We subsequently spent more time with her at a workshop of all of us involved in the Archival Platform in August. She arrived for the workshop, spent the evening before the workshop began with us, and was called away back home for an emergency before the workshop had begun. What stands out most from those last two times we were with her is how much she was looking forward to being a mother to the baby in her tummy. Her last few emails were punctuated by little details of what her baby was doing and her joy at Hlelumi's little demands for attention was palpable.

We are going to miss you, Nokhanyo, with your ability to make everybody around you feel like you are their friend, sister or parent without even trying. It's a sad loss for all of us, especially your family about whom you so lovingly wrote in the last three stories. Long may you continue to spread love and light where you have gone and to all those you've left behind.

Xolelwa Kashe Katiya: Nokhanyo was more than a colleague to me, she was also a friend and her sudden departure is such a loss for our close-knit circle of friends. She was deeply loved by many whom she touched with her spirituality and wisdom. A Sangoma by training, she was healer and a guide whose presence turned any occasion into a deeply spiritual experience. All our children were easily drawn to her fairy-like demeanour, some of us called her the African Fairy. When she walked, she looked like she was dancing and when she spoke, she sounded like a High Priestess. At times she would just break into song without any warning. She taught us about looking after mind, body and soul. She was a living archive, a vessel filled with ancestral wisdom that she shared with those that surrounded her. Her work with the Archival Platform extended her reach, as he used the platform to discuss issues that are usually regarded as belief systems. This in turn contributed to the ancestral stories project that is aimed at shifting this kind of knowledge from the margins, to be regarded as knowledge proper.

Lucy Campbell: I would like to convey my sincere condolences to the Mhlana family and friends. My thoughts are with you while I celebrate the memory of Nokhanyo. Though I had met her only once it felt as if I had known her a long time. Her honest, humble way of speaking to me left me with a lasting memory of a strong sister who loved life and respected all. Long live the memory of Nokhanyo you will surely be missed. Aluta Continua.

Sebinane Lekoekoe: Aware that archives serve to guarantee the right to the truth, Nokhanyo exemplified the posts in mother tongue as a way to ensure inclusion of heritage custodians by promoting readership in their language. She will be remembered as an insightful young woman who understood the need for a dynamic Archival Platform whose broadened horizons must touch the custodians of the community heritage. It is such a loss to the AP but her vision and passion for a broader understanding of archives is a legacy that all of us will carry forward. I would like to convey my sincere condolences to her family and the Archival Platform.

Dineo Skosana: I wish to send my sincere condolences to the family of Nokhanyo. Although I have only met her on one occasion, the passion in which she discussed her work, made a tremendous impact on me. I saw in her determination which I believe she carried through every task she was given. It is such a loss to me personally and the Archival Platform. May her family be comforted. She will always be in our hearts.

Vuyani Booi: It is such a sad moment to hear that one of the most promising young shrewd African intellectuals, Nokhanyo, has passed away. Nokhanyo passed away at time when this country is longing to see young women like her taking centre stage in its reconstruction. She had giant ideas that not even those that are in power were willing to hear because they were haunted by her good writings. Nokhanyo used culture as a platform to conceptualise ideas that would make us to move forward as a nation. She had all these compelling and critical ideas that needed no postponement in terms of engagement. What I remember about her is that she was a humble person guided by a voice of reason and sober thinking at all times. She really derived happiness in the power of her ideas rather than succumbing to the materialistic gains that our people have indulged in. Nokhanyo, I shall miss the power of your pen and your giant ideas that transformed me into the better person I am.


Nokhanyo's posts demonstrate her passionate commitment to understanding and contributing to the society of which she was a part. They foreground the issues that particularly concerned her: cultural heritage, traditions and customs, the environment, human rights, indigenous languages and knowledge and the importance of family.

Inyathi Ibuzwa kwabaphambili / Wisdom is learnt from the elders
Nokhanyo Mhlana argues that some information can be kept and preserved through written archives while other information is passed on from generation to generation through oral narratives and ways of life.


'The elderly people, such as grandmothers and grandfathers amongst others, are our live ancestors. They have lived through many experiences and thus are wise souls. I hail this group of wisdom keepers. They share the knowledge through conversations, anyone who wishes to learn from them ought to invest time in sitting, talking and questioning them. They hold knowledge on one's ancestry as well as the history of the nation or at the least certain pockets of it. They give wisdom freely and are the greatest teachers and advisors.'

African culture and language diversity remain closely linked to biodiversity
Nokhanyo Mhlana, writes about language, the role it plays in building respect for different cultures, and the importance of diversifying the archive through the incorporation of indigenous languages.




'Language helps us respect each other's cultures, creating a space of honour for each other. Language is critical to ponder when we talk about archives. For languages are not just communicating tools, a lot is hidden with the words and phrases.'

Iintombi zenkciyo
Nokanya Mhlana traces her journey accompanying Mpondomise women to their virginity test.



'... I allow myself openness to all life's learnings' reflecting on her experience of accompanying Mpondomise women to their virginity test

Reflections of heritage and Heritage Day
Nokhanyo Mhlana reflects on the significance of celebrating Heritage Day on 24 September.



For me, heritage is to be celebrated daily, a lifestyle of appreciation. Learning from all cultures and collaborating with what one already knows so we can elevate to be higher minded beings. It is also about teaching and taking pride in who I am.

Heritage is dynamic and constantly being added on, it is the sum of our experiences and one can choose to have experiences that advance her/his own living so they can can inherit wisdom in their live, creating a wiser way of living for ourselves and for those who come after us.

Rights enshrined yet rights denied
Nokhanyo Mhlana considers the meaning of Human Rights Day for people whose livelihoods and lives are cut short to protect forests, hotel owners and tourists.



Human rights provide the essential social foundation for all people to live lives of dignity and opportunity. International (universal) human rights norms have long asserted the fundamental moral claim each person has to life's essentials - such as food, water, shelter, health care, sanitation, education, freedom of expression, political participation and personal security - no matter how much or how little money or power they have. So which human rights do we celebrate in South Africa when the basic immediate rights are denied to some of our fellow South Africans?

Iikrisimesi zam
Iikrisimesi zam
Mqombothi, braai mutton from a freshly slaughtered sheep, loud talks and laughter, our 86 year old granny are the highlights of Nokhanyo Mhlana's christmas celebrations.




'... for me, christmas is about togetherness, a season to give gratitude for coming full circle with the seasons. It is a blessing to be able to feast on the greatness and abundance of food that the universe has blessed us with, this we do with laughter and joy and celebrating the souls that feed our souls, our families and loved ones.'

'This year I got an early and the best christmas present, I gave birth to my greatest life achievement and blessing, Hlelumi Marimba MoUongano, my daughter, the flower of my life. The family members that have not met her look forward to greeting her. Hlelumi and I will have two christmas destinations, with my family and then at her father's where she is also long awaited.'

Creative love acts

Nokhanyo Mhlana reflects on the fragments of expressions of the love scattered in archives and collections around the world.



'Of course some fragments of others' love reside in the many museums in the country and the world, as well as in many homes of people who are charmed by African artefacts. I think the future order is to mimic a similar way to the old jewellery box filled with treasures. An African one would be a trunk since our crafts can get big. This I am going to do for my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so they may know and appreciate the love I receive and am still to receive, learn that I received it because I gave it in abundance and I pray they will follow suit.

This article I dedicate to my twin-self, my partner Buyelekhaya, who sits for hours and carves very pretty things for me, including heart-shaped earrings from coconut shells on a random date in the year: love expressions.'

Rest in peace Nokhanyo.