11 October 2023 | Story Veena Naidoo | Photo Supplied
The battle for ideas in African Studies
From the left: Dr Munyaradzi Mushonga (Programme Director: Africa Studies Programme and discussant); Prof Sabelo J Ndlovu-Gatsheni (speaker); Dr Stephanie Cawood (Director: CGAS); Prof Mogomme Masoga (Dean: Faculty of The Humanities).

African Studies, Prof Sabelo J Ndlovu-Gatsheni, African knowledge, Heritage Month, Resolution 91064, decolonisation.

The University of the Free State (UFS) recently hosted the inaugural lecture of Extraordinary Professor and globally renowned decolonial scholar, Prof Sabelo J Ndlovu-Gatsheni. This momentous occasion, coinciding with Heritage Month, marked a significant milestone in the university's academic calendar and underscored the enduring importance of African knowledge and its tumultuous history. Dr Munyaradzi Mushonga, the Programme Director for Africa Studies in the Centre for Gender and Africa Studies (CGAS), had the honour of convening and discussing this profound lecture.

The battle for African knowledge

Prof Ndlovu-Gatsheni's lecture began with a poignant reflection on the domain of knowledge in Africa, highlighting the various crimes that have been committed against it throughout history. These transgressions encompassed the theft of history, epistemicides, culturecides, linguicides, linguifam, and the subjugation of indigenous knowledge. Such acts, as he eloquently pointed out, left an indelible mark on Africa's intellectual landscape, a legacy of looting that continues to resonate today.

Resolution 91064: A path to understanding

In his lecture, Prof Ndlovu-Gatsheni introduced 'Resolution 91064,' a conceptual framework that served as a map to navigate the complex terrain of African Studies. He addressed nine contextual questions, spanning existential, historical, developmental, reparative/restitutive, material, identitarian, epistemic, dignitarian, and re-membering/reconstitutive issues. These questions provided a historical and intellectual backdrop, tracing the lineage of African anti-colonial and decolonial struggles, which led to the emergence of movements such as Ethiopianism, Rastafarianism, Garveyism, and Pan-Africanism.

Challenges haunting African Studies

The lecture's second segment delved into the ten formidable challenges that continue to haunt African Studies. These include genealogical, epistemic, linguistic, chronological, theoretical, spatial, androcentric, disciplinary, canonical, and the resilient colonial library. Prof Ndlovu-Gatsheni emphasised the imperative of confronting these challenges to liberate African Studies from the confines of the Africanist enterprise. Notably, he underscored the urgent need to address the androcentric question, highlighting the erasure of women in history as a crucial area for correction.

Key debates in African Studies 

The lecture's third section raised six pivotal debates in African Studies, including fundamental epistemological questions, the contestations surrounding the meaning and implications of colonialism, debates on Marxism and decolonisation, the dominance of the Africanist enterprise, the coloniality of the global knowledge economy, and the delicate issue of writing about Africa in the 21st Century. These debates have been fuelled by cultural shifts, ‘woke’ consciousness, the resurgence of decolonisation in the 21st Century, and the rise of epistemologies from the Global South.

Envisioning the future of African Studies 

Prof Ndlovu-Gatsheni concluded 'Resolution 91064' by presenting four possible future pathways for African Studies: Comparative African Studies (CSA), Critical African Studies (CAS), Frontier African Studies (FAS), and Global African Studies (GAS). He cautioned against CSA's limitation due to its continued adherence to the 'white gaze' and called for an innovative blend of CAS, FAS, and GAS. This vision aims to liberate African Studies from historical constraints and promote a more inclusive, dynamic field.

Un-learning in order to re-learn

In response to Prof Ndlovu-Gatsheni's lecture, Dr  Mushonga aptly described it as a clarion call to engage in African Studies with Africans. He stressed the importance of exorcising the ‘gaze of the other’ that has long perceived Africa as a land of childhood. This call to action aims to foster the growth of the African idea of Africa and to liberate African Studies from its origins as 'Area Studies.' Dr Mushonga also emphasised the importance of ‘un-learning in order to re-learn,’ highlighting the need for continuous intellectual evolution.  

The inaugural lecture by Prof Sabelo J Ndlovu-Gatsheni offered profound insights and a visionary road map for the future of African Studies. It is an invaluable resource for those seeking to engage with the discourse on African knowledge, heritage, and the battle for ideas in African Studies. Heritage Month is the ideal backdrop to honour and amplify the wisdom imparted by Prof Ndlovu-Gatsheni, celebrating the richness of African knowledge and its pivotal role in shaping the future of academia and society. His inaugural lecture was a beacon of intellectual inspiration and wisdom and a testament to the unwavering commitment of Prof Ndlovu-Gatsheni towards decolonisation and the advancement of African Studies. The profound insights and proposed future trajectories will undoubtedly influence the trajectory of academic discourse in African Studies, fostering a more inclusive and representative approach to knowledge generation and dissemination. As we honour this remarkable scholar during Heritage Month, we also renew our dedication to the decolonial project, acknowledging the imperative of recognising and valuing diverse knowledge systems.

Click here to watch the live stream or alternatively click here to read more about Prof Ndlovu-Gatesheni's inaugural lecture.

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