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The year 2019, declared the International Year for Indigenous Languages by UNESCO, has seen the seventh Doctor of Literature (DLitt) degree in isiXhosa where the thesis written entirely in the language, conferred at Nelson Mandela University last week – ten years since the first.

Last week, Dr Zoleka Hempe was conferred a DLitt, with her study looking into the state of mind – through acts, signs and habits – of various characters in selected isiXhosa literature before and after killing people.

Dr Hempe’s thesis, written entirely in isiXhosa and co-supervised by Dr Zoliswa Made and Prof Henry Thipa, is the seventh such produced under the University’s Department of Language and Literature since the first in the institution’s history by Dr Nozuko Gxekwa in 2009.

Dr Gxekwa, under the supervision of Prof Michael Somniso, remains celebrated for having paved the way for other students who wanted to pursue postgraduate studies in isiXhosa.

Dr Hempe was one of five doctoral graduates, among more than 350 graduates, in the Faculty of Arts graduation ceremony on the morning of 8 April, which saw the conferring of under- and postgraduate qualifications in the Schools of Architecture; Music, Art and Design; and Language, Media and Culture.

The initial entirely isiXhosa study by Dr Gxekwa was followed by those of Dr Pumla Cutalele, supervised by Prof Linda Kwatsha, and Drs Nontembiso Jaxa and Pam Kumalo, supervised by Prof Ncedile Saule.

In 2017, Dr Lwandlekazi Notshe, supervised by Prof Kwatsha, was awarded a Dlitt (IsiXhosa), with Dr Andiswa Mvanyashe, under the supervision of Prof Kwatsha as well, awarded in 2018.

The citations of the theses were presented in isiXhosa by the supervisors before the officiating Chancellor or Vice-Chancellor and the congregation.

Prof Kwatsha said this showed Mandela University’s commitment to the intellectualization of African languages.

“These outputs also show that isiXhosa has developed to be an academic, scientific language of research since studies of this level could be produced at the institution of higher learning,” she said.

“Most of the doctors mentioned above are working in renowned institutions of higher learning in South Africa. They have leading positions that promotes and develops isiXhosa in their fields of work.”

Prof Kwatsha, a senior Language and Literature lecturer at Mandela University, said there were a number of activities planned in commemoration of the International Year for Indigenous Languages.

These include writing and storytelling workshops, lectures, seminars and talks.

“Poets will be given a platform to perform in indigenous languages. Writers’ workshop will be facilitated for those wanting to write in indigenous languages and they will also have the opportunity to share ideas with writers who have already published in isiXhosa.”

The International Year for Indigenous Languages is a United Nations observance aimed at raising awareness of the consequences of the endangerment of the mother tongue worldwide.

This is with the aim of establishing a link between language, development peace, social cohesion  and reconciliation.

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