Mother to Mother

Mother to Mother Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Sindiwe Magona's Mother to Mother. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Sindiwe Magona

Sindiwe Magona was born in Umtata, a town in eastern South Africa, and grew up in Guguletu, a township outside of Cape Town. She attended primary school in Guguletu, but finished high school through a correspondence course. She then received a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Africa, and in 1981 moved to New York to work on a master’s degree in Social Work. In between, she did domestic work and worked as a schoolteacher. After receiving her master’s degree, Magona worked for the United Nations, first working in radio and then in the Public Information department until retiring to Cape Town, her home, in 2003. Magona wrote throughout her life, spending her earlier years writing autobiographical prose, short stories, and novels, and beginning to explore children’s literature in her retirement.
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Historical Context of Mother to Mother

Portuguese traders first began to explore the coastline of South Africa in the 1400s, but Europeans didn’t begin to colonize the area until 1600s, when the Dutch East India Company created permanent settlements at what is now Cape Town. The settlements were a port to help passing ships on their way to Asia, but colonization expanded as greater infrastructure was required to serve said ships. Over time, the colony expanded along the coast and inland, with white colonists killing and enslaving (or forcing into indentured servitude) black Africans as they encountered them. Eventually British settlers also arrived, initially only interested in the Cape as a strategic port, but eventually going to war against Boers (or Dutch South Africans), officially taking control of South Africa in 1909. As long as white Europeans had been in South Africa, black Africans were forced to endure racism and discrimination. This was formally written into law in the mid 1880s, and further formalized in 1948—the beginning of the fifty year apartheid which denied civil and human rights to all black South Africans.

Other Books Related to Mother to Mother

Mother to Mother is a novel set during the apartheid in South Africa. Other similar works, which also explore the apartheid through a semi-fictional lens include many of J.M. Coetzee’s novels, such as Life & Times of Michael K and Age of Iron; Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country; Es’kia Mphahlele’s Down Second Avenue; and Miriam Tlali’s Muriel at Metropolitan. As for nonfiction, comedian Trevor Noah’s memoir, Born a Crime, also centers around apartheid in South Africa, and, like Mother to Mother, deals with the tumultuousness of family life. Nelson Mandela’s classic prison autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, also focuses on apartheid.
Key Facts about Mother to Mother
  • Full Title: Mother To Mother
  • When Written: Mid 1990s
  • Where Written: Unknown
  • When Published: 1998
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Realistic Fiction
  • Setting: South Africa
  • Climax: Mxolisi stabs The Girl.
  • Antagonist: The Colonial Government
  • Point of View: First person, Mandisa, addressing second person “You” of The Mother

Extra Credit for Mother to Mother

Multitalented. Magona has had several acting roles, including in an adaptation of the first novel published in Xhosa, Ityala, and as a voice actor in the animated film Khumba.

Ripped from the headlines. Mother to Mother is based on a real life murder—Amy Elizabeth Biehl, an American Fulbright scholar studying in South Africa was murdered by a group of young black men. Magona took this tragedy and fictionalized it, imagining a single boy was responsible for the murder, and investigating his life and his history.