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A gendered approach to transformation

Prof Nkiru Nzegwu, Binghamton University

Unisa held the second African Intellectuals Project lecture on 28 May 2019. EnTitled "Proper African woman: Omumu, dissembling subordination and reasserting endogenous powers", it was delivered by Nkiru Nzegwu, Professor of Africana Studies at Binghamton University, New York, as well as the founder of Africa Resource Centre, Inc., an online educational portal that publishes award-winning, peer-reviewed journals and databases, and distributes them through the platform Africa Knowledge Project. She has published extensively in the areas of African feminist philosophy and contemporary African and African Diaspora art.

The African Intellectuals Project is aimed at sparking scholarly reflections over and around some of the pertinent challenges that face us as a nation and university. The focus this year is to examine the higher education system, and how Unisa may transform it from the current state of coloniality to one that affords a decolonised space.

Putting focus on culture that has relevance to the higher education sector, Nzegwu articulated that African philosophy of culture is concerned with the sum total of a people’s ways of living, histories, conventions and practices that have been passed on from generation to generation and that endows them with a distinctive character. "This means we have to consider social institutions at different points in time, including the changes produced during and after the colonial period. We need to be mindful that the dialectics of modernity speak about change and traditions in convoluted ways, and that references to tradition are sometimes projections of the present unto the past, projections designed to compel a particular type of action or mark a behaviour as authentic."

Commenting on two of Nzegwu’s focus areas - Feminist and African Women Studies and African Philosophy - Prof Mandla Makhanya, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, affirmed that the need for black women’s voices to be differentiated, even as they located their struggle against capitalist patriarchy within the broader women’s struggle, could not be overemphasised. "This is so because the black women’s struggle should not be narrowly understood as only a component part of a global sisterhood. Theirs is a voice that is also part of a conquered peoples; a still colonised people in many ways."

Respondents to the lecture, Prof Zodwa Motsa Madikane (Department of Leadership and Transformation) and Dr Edith Phaswana (Acting Head: TMALI) with Prof Nkiru Nzegwu (Binghamton University) (centre)

He said that black women were tired of being side-lined and pointed out that one of the areas that was emerging in the university’s internal discussions was the need to clearly articulate a gendered approach to transformation.

Inspired by Nzegwu’s elaboration, Makhanya said: "Our project on the decolonisation of the academy must therefore be grounded on the lived experiences of the people of our country and the continent. Our curriculum and research output must consider, reflect and aim to understand our history, conventions and practices."

The Unisa African Intellectuals project aims to assist humanity to transition from one epoch of dehumanisation to one of rehumanisation. Hence, the African Philosophy of Ubuntu, based on the value of a "me being human because of other human beings" provides a strong foundation for the rehumanising potential of education.

The seminar attracted a large audience and was hosted by the Unisa Women’s Forum Chairperson, Dr Sheila Kumalo, while respondents to the lecture were Dr Edith Phaswana, Acting Head of the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute (TMALI) and Prof Zodwa Motsa Madikane, from Unisa’s Department of Leadership and Transformation.

* By Tshimangadzo Mphaphuli, Senior Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2019/06/10