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The CWGS aims to resuscitate the histories of African women from all walks of life in an intellectual cleansing/ukuhlambulula of her story, aimed at healing our society today.

The Centre for Women and Gender Studies (CWGS) was launched at Nelson Mandela University in October 2019. One of the CWGS’s key academic projects is to research and foreground African women’s biographies, intellectual production and political histories. These speak of women’s power and leadership in society.

The absence and erasure of these voices is part of the sociology that contributes to gender-based violence (GBV).

We see it as our mandate to resuscitate these voices and histories: not only the voices of intellectuals, we want all

African women’s voices — workers, rural women, women in business, politics, the arts…” says the Interim Director of the CWGS and senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Dr Babalwa Magoqwana. It is the intellectual cleansing/ukuhlambulula of her story, aimed at healing the systematic and intellectual trauma that defines our society today.

The CWGS is mainstreaming these histories in its teaching and research:

  • To develop a gender corridor in the Eastern Cape; and
  • To link universities and scholars dealing with gender questions and profiling African women’s biographical intellectual histories.

“We are partnering with other universities in the Eastern Cape, such as Rhodes University, in talking about women’s liberation histories and popularism; how women in the liberation struggle were more than mothers and wives, they were essential to the revolution,” Magoqwana explains.

“We shouldn’t be reading about Sol Plaatje and the history of the ANC without reading about Charlotte Maxeke. In the same vein, we have commissioned a thesis on Adelaide Tambo who is often referred to as the wife of Oliver Tambo, although she was a political force in her own right. This is the kind of erasure of African women’s intellectual history we are combatting.

Even in the rewriting of our country’s history, our African brothers have generally neglected the enormous role of women; or referred to them as ‘the wife’ or ‘first lady’.”

The CWGS is currently working on a book on African women’s intellectual histories co-edited with Rhodes University’s Siphokazi Magadla and Athambile Masola from the University of Pretoria. Due for publication in 2021, the book explores the voices of women in all spheres — from pop icon and activist Brenda Fassie in the eighties and nineties to intellectual activist Charlotte Maxeke, going back 150 years.

The CWGS is also exploring what it means to be “Queer in Africa”, based on the work of Professor Zethu Matebeni, the Centre’s first visiting professor, appointed in 2019, who is based in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of the Western Cape.

Her research focuses on gender and sexuality, with specific attention on black lesbian lives, LGBTQ rights and queer issues.

“To show that LGBTQ life is not foreign or Western, it is part and parcel of our own cultures, Prof Matebeni explores the local languages in the Eastern Cape and how they represent sexuality. Her research speaks directly to what is happening in our communities and to the growing conservatism about sexuality in Africa that is often based on religiosity. It challenges dogmatic and traditionalistic approaches that dismiss sexuality as something that should not be engaged with in an African context.”

Prof Matebeni’s films, poetry and essays have been published in numerous journals and she is the co-editor of Beyond the Mountain: Queer Life in Africa’s Gay Capital (UNISA Press, 2019), and Queer in Africa: LGBTQI identities, citizenship and activism (Routledge 2018).

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and rise in GBV during lockdown, the CWGS launched a digital platform in early April 2020 to build a local and global online community. “We invite people to speak on the work they have published and we encourage students from different disciplines and faculties to participate,” says Magoqwana.

As part of their aim to develop perspectives on the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, the CWGS’s weekly online series Reading with the author began with a focus on health and gender, in a conversation titled “COVID-19: Movement and class in post-apartheid South Africa” by gender activist and prominent feminist author, Professor Pumla Gqola.

“The CWGS is committed to addressing issues to which everyone can relate,” says Magoqwana.

“In the Department of Sociology we will be investing in a new curriculum that foregrounds African sociology, to nurture African-centred gender scholars from first year who can see themselves in the curriculum and who go on to pursue Master’s and PhD degrees.”

Attending the Dr Joyce Banda public lecture in February this year, from left: the Zanele Mbeki Development Trust’s Linda Vilikazi, Rhodes University’s Dr Siphokazi Magadla, the Centre for Women and Gender Studies’ (CWGS) Dr Babalwa Magoqwana, North West University’s Prof Pamela Maseko and Nelson Mandela University’s Prof Nomalanga Mkhize.

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Ms Zandile Mbabela
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Tel: 0415042777