Change the world


Inyathi ibuzwa kwabaphambili – a Xhosa proverb that means wisdom is learnt or sought from the elders. This powerful proverb was the overarching theme of the two-day virtual colloquium hosted by the Centre for Women and Gender Studies at Nelson Mandela University, in collaboration with Rhodes University and the University of Pretoria.

The colloquium, held on 28-29 August 2020, served not only as a significant Women’s Month commemoration but was also the culmination of the first year of the Centre’s flagship intellectual project to recover memory and “re-member” women’s intellectual histories in Southern Africa.

Opening the colloquium, Mandela University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sibongile Muthwa, said it was aptly themed, and deliberately sought to recognise the generational continuities and discontinuities of the struggle and achievements by women today.

“The discussions contribute to righting the wrongs of excluding women’s historiographies that have fundamentally shaped ideas of personhood, liberation and leadership, yet are largely left out of history and how our common journey as human beings is told,” Prof Muthwa said.

Inyathi ibuzwa kwabaphambili is a call to action for us to look back while we are building and moving forward, learning from our elders … those who have built the institutions before us; those who have sacrificed so much for so many of us, and for those who are yet to be born. This connection and recognition of the linkages of the history and future of women enables us to recognise the continuities within the challenges faced by women today.”

Two years ago, Prof Muthwa, during her historic inauguration as the institution’s first black African female Vice-Chancellor, foregrounded the revitalisation of the humanities as one of the University’s key focus areas in the renewal of the academic project.

At the time, Prof Muthwa said: “The humanities, with open and malleable borders, are called upon to use their innate potential to awaken African scholarship, epistemologies and systems of thought so as to excavate the African praxes of our regions to write an inclusive narrative of progress. There is a constitutive link between knowledge, teaching and learning and institutional culture. Much of our non-transformative, exclusionary academic and non-academic practices and behaviours are closely knitted into our views of pedagogy, knowledge and institutional ethos.”

The Centre, which was launched in October 2019 under the interim directorship of sociologist Dr Babalwa Magoqwana, is aimed at providing an inclusive ‘gender agenda’ that is informed by the broader transformation project of Mandela University in creating a more humane and equal society.

Through the colloquium, the Centre wrapped up its yearlong academic project of archiving and showcasing the biographical histories of the African women thinkers, infusing history, the creative genres of arts and language to centre the works that have been neglected from the maternal intellectual ancestors.

Opening the colloquium, Prof Muthwa called for the deliberate positioning of the daily struggles of ordinary women at the centre of the conversation, allowing recognition as intellectuals in their own right.

“[This] will add to a broader feminist archival project which seeks to re-member women and fight the continued colonial and post-colonial erasure of women’s intellectual contributions in the political and cultural imaginations in Southern Africa,” said Prof Muthwa.

Supporting the work of the Centre is the Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke Institute (CMMI), which was established to preserve this formidable leader and activist’s legacy by producing the same calibre of African women.

Maxeke, who was a key yet often underrated figure in South African history, is now recognised for the pioneering role she played towards the emancipation of women and their overall contribution to society.

Representing CMMI at the colloquium, Dr Musawenkosi Saurombe said: “It is therefore important for us to take note of these contributions that have been made and how this has been a foundation laid for those of us currently continuing with the mandate previously established, and how important it is to continue the work that has been long started.”

The CMMI is working on a programme to commemorate the 150th birthday celebrations of Mama uMaxeke.

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