Born in Umzinto, KwaZulu-Natal 17 August 1935
Christened: Penelope Yvonne Denoon-Stevens
Education: Epworth School, Pietermaritzburg 1943-51
University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg 1952-55
University of South Africa, Pretoria. 1974
Married Robin Kirk (4 children) Married Ian Howcroft.
Penny began her career in the 1950s with a series of teaching expeditions that led her from Africa to Trinidad and thence to Sarawak in Borneo. From 1967 to 1973, she taught at Uplands Primary School in White River, near the Kruger National Park.
From 1973 to 1976 she was a lecturer in the Fine Arts Dept at the University of South Africa, Pretoria. This was a very bleak period in South Africa when townships were steaming with dissatisfaction about apartheid. In August 1978, she joined the Johannesburg newspaper The Star, where with James Clarke she launched ‘Topic Today’, a newspaper-in-education project with a daily page of syllabus-linked articles to assist schoolchildren whose textbooks had been burned during riots.
The great need was for inexpensive reading materials and pictorial aids, so Penny produced activity cards and wrote ‘An Apple for the Teacher’, a book to assist teachers using the newspaper as an educational tool. Public response was so good another daily programme was inserted in The Star’s Africa Edition.
By 1984, The Star’s newspaper-in-education project was firmly entrenched, but that year, staff problems and operating costs caused a retrenchment panic as the economy deteriorated. The Star decided to drop the newspaper-in-education programme, despite an outcry from the public.
In September 1989, Penny rejoined The Star to revive the newspaper-in-education programme. Penny Isemonger, an experienced journalist and qualified teacher, joined her to direct page production. Together, the two Pennys saw that Topic Today got back on track.
Penny’s husband Ian sold his business in 1991 and they moved to a farm near Rustenburg where they ran a guesthouse. They retired to the Cape in 1999. By then she had returned to earlier work researching and writing about the Zulu kings and their battles against British imperialists.