Decolonising Africa: Insights from Professor Kwesi Kwaa Prah, Tsitsi Dangarembga, and Ignatius Mabasa

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[L-R] Dean of Humanities, Prof Enocent Msindo; Novelist & Playwright Tsitsi Dangarembga, DVC: Research, Innovation & Strategic Partnerships, Dr Kwezi Mzilikazi
[L-R] Dean of Humanities, Prof Enocent Msindo; Novelist & Playwright Tsitsi Dangarembga, DVC: Research, Innovation & Strategic Partnerships, Dr Kwezi Mzilikazi

By: Amahle Banda and Athenkosi Mndende

In commemoration of Africa Month, the NRF SARChI Chair for Intellectualisation of African Languages, Multilingualism and Education, in collaboration with the Faculty of Humanities and the Global Engagement Division, organised events from the 13th to the 16th of May 2024. These gatherings aimed to delve into Africa's rich heritage and provoke academic discourse on the continent’s future trajectory.

Internationally acclaimed scholars, including Emeritus Prof Kwesi Kwaa Prah, Prof Lynda Spencer, Prof Douglas Mpondi, Dr Ignatius Mabasa, and Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga, shared their thoughts throughout the week.

The inaugural event on May 13th featured a public lecture by Emeritus Professor Kwesi Kwaa Prah, founder of the Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society (CASAS). Prof Prah explored the intersection of culture, language, and Africa’s future, asserting, “Language is key to culture. If the dominator's language is dominant in the mouth of the conquered, then we are lost.” He emphasised that the future of African culture lies in the intellectualisation of African languages and described the difficulties African societies face due to globalisation. Prof Prah called for Africa to forge its path anchored in its history and traditions and resist universalising globalisation. He urged enhancing the quality of African language dictionaries to preserve their richness. Prof Ron Simango supported this, emphasising the importance of valuing indigenous languages and breaking English dominance in academia.

On May 14th, Tsitsi Dangarembga engaged with the Department of Literary Studies of English, discussing her novel "Nervous Conditions" with students. Dangarembga shared her writing process, character development, and the inspiration behind her works, aiming to make herself and her communities visible in literature. Describing "Nervous Conditions" as a journey of discovery for Zimbabwean women post-independence, she recounted its challenging publication journey, which eventually saw success in 1988. The book has now been translated into numerous European and Asian languages.

The events continued on May 15th with a conversation between Dangarembga and Dr Mabasa about his "Nervous Conditions" translation into Shona, moderated by Prof Douglas Mpondi. Dr. Mabasa saw this translation as a form of repatriation and a practical action to counter Western dominance in knowledge. He felt that if the book remained in English, its existence was a colonial victory over indigenous people. Dangarembga and Mabasa discussed the importance of translations and the interconnectedness of self-development within a global context. Dangarembga advocated translating her book into other languages, like isiXhosa, to reach wider audiences.

On May 16th, Dangarembga delivered a lecture titled “A Perspective on Decolonizing the Southern African Subject: What We Are Up Against and How to Push Back” at the Amazwi African Museum of Literature. She shed light on colonialism, poverty, and unemployment in Zimbabwe, inviting attendees to think about transformation and decolonisation. Dangarembga emphasised the importance of engaging with both internal and external systems of colonisation. She stressed that successful decolonisation requires reclaiming the past in a way that fits the present and planning for the future from where we are today.

Among the attendees were the Deputy Ambassador of Switzerland, Mr. Marino Cuenat, and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation, and Strategic Partnership, Dr. Nomakwezi Mzilikazi. They praised Dangarembga’s creative accomplishments and activism in pursuing social justice in Africa. Closing her speech, Dangarembga echoed Professor Prah's call for comprehensive indigenous research, reiterating the urgent need to understand the origins of colonial subjects and indigenous knowledge across various fields.

Thandeka Gqubule-Mbeki captured Dangarembga’s perspective on decolonisation, emphasising the integral role of language. She urged African scholars to search for “missing etymologies” to shed light on what Africa lost when indigenous languages were supplanted by colonial languages. The message was clear: Africa needs to forge its path.