Helen Mmakgabo Mmapula Sebidi, born in 1943, is a Tswana and was raised in Marapyane Village near Hammanskraal in the Northern Transvaal. The names of African people are given help to provide them with an identity, and it is important to live up to one's names. Mmakgabo means "mother of animals" and in the African traditions, animals are often seen in a symbolic way. Considered the first inhabitants of the earth, they are believed to guide human destiny. Just after Sebidi's birth, a long drought was broken, and to commemorate the rain, the community suggested that the baby be given the name Mmapula, which means "mother of rain." Sebidi means boiling, and metaphorically, it could symbolise energy.
As a baby, Sebidi was put under the care of her grandmother, a traditional artist who painted murals on walls, and whose house was like a pot factory due to the constant creating of clay pots. It was here that Sebidi learned the value of art and this strongly influenced her life and work. She was put in the charge of her grandmother was because she never knew her father and seldom saw her mother, who was unable to look after her baby, working in the big city of Johannesburg. This meant that ever since Sebidi was a child, she was aware of both social disruption in the family and of the schism between rural and urban existence.