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The ceremony formed part of the annual Milde McWilliams Memorial Lecturehosted by the University’s School of Architecture, with Carin Smuts as the speaker this year.  


First Indigenous leaders together with Mandela University’s Professor Magda Minguzzi, Lucy Vosloo, DVC Engagement and Transformation Professor Andre’ Keet, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, the Built Environment and Technology, Prof Marshall Sheldon, and guest speaker at the 17th Milde McWilliams Memorial Lecture, Architect Carin Smuts.

Nelson Mandela University recently honoured and acknowledged eight First Indigenous leaders for their valued engagement with the School of Architecture over a sustained period of time.

The ceremony formed part of the annual Milde McWilliams Memorial Lecture, hosted by the University’s School of Architecture, with Carin Smuts as the speaker this year.  

“We honour them for their positive contribution towards knowledge co-production in the learning-teaching and research environments at the School. The Chiefs are involved in class with the students, in discussing the tangible and intangible Indigenous heritage in the Eastern Cape and its related values,” says Professor Magda Minguzzi of the School of Architecture and Researcher at the Institute for Coastal and Marine Research.  

“Staff and students are actively engaged on First Nations sites, with the Khoikhoi and San leaders, learning about the Indigenous Knowledge System and a first-hand history, which cannot be found in books”, she says.  

The eight leaders honoured were Gaob Thomas Augustus (Gamtobaqua tribe), Gaos Margaret Coetzee (Inqua tribe), Gaob Daantjie Japhta (Inqua Camdeboo tribe), Gaob Brato Malgas, (Inqua tribe), Chief Xam ≠ Gaob Maleiba, (Damasonqua tribe), Paramount Chief Gert Cornelius Steenkamp (Oeswana tribe), Chief Wallace Williams (Oeswana tribe) and Gaos Anne Williams, (Gamtouers/Gamktwa tribe, in the representation of the late Chief Michael Williams).

Since 2014

The working group led by Prof Minguzzi, in collaboration with Lucy Vosloo, lecturer in Architectural Technology, was formed in 2014 and composed of the eight First Nation leaders and their community members based in Mandela Bay and its vicinity, and staff and students from the School of Architecture.

Since then, there has been a continuous exploration and development of research projects, which involve teaching-learning-researching- promoting acts of cultural re-appropriation, and reconnecting the First Peoples with their heritage sites, and reformulating and reconstructing the indigenous narrative, done by them.  

This collaboration contributes to the building up and co-creation of new knowledge, advancing the process of restoration of the Indigenous culture and identity, decolonising the higher education curriculum, breaking the boundary between Indigenous communities and academia, and building up equity, inclusivity, and social cohesion, says Prof Minguzzi.

Research projects 

Some of the research projects developed under the School of Architecture include “The Spirit of Water, Indigenous Ceremony and Study of the Fish Traps in the Eastern Cape” (from 2017 to 2021), and “-the Indigenous Architecture of Baviaanskloof” (from 2021- in progress).  

The Spirit of Water started in 2017 with the organisation of two days of Indigenous Ceremonies in front of the ancient fish traps in Cape Recife Nature Reserve (Gqeberha).

The fish traps are the most ancient man-made structures (Middle Stone Age) or infrastructure present in the area, constructed by the pre-colonial hunter-gatherer communities living on the coast of Southern Africa at the time and are highly significant in terms of heritage.

They were used to catch fish using the tide’s movements of the ocean and were built thanks to the very sophisticated understanding and knowledge that the First Nation people had, of the landscape, natural elements, and movement of fishes. This site is in Mandela University’s backyard.

This ceremony was a key milestone that straightened the partnership with the First Indigenous leaders and at the same time initiated the ground-breaking research and scientific survey on the unresearched and undocumented ancient fish trap sites in the Eastern Cape province.

This research has also received three years of support from the National Research Foundation of South Africa.

Since 2021 the working group has been involved in documenting and studying tangible and intangible Indigenous knowledge systems of the built environment in Baviaanskloof.

Research that received funds from the Vernacular Architecture Group (UK) and currently from Oxford Brookes University (UK).

Furthermore, this project has been recently selected to be part of the "UIA-International Union of Architects Guidebook for the 2030 Agenda" and is the only project selected from Southern Africa.

Among other research outputs, the group published an open-source book entitled “The Spirit of Water. Practices of cultural reappropriation.

Indigenous heritage sites along the coast of the Eastern Cape-South Africa (Florence University Press), and two documentaries that have been shown internationally including at ICOMOS GA2023 General Assembly and Scientific Symposium, Sydney, from 31 August to 7 Sept 2023.

Contact information
Ms Elma de Koker
Internal Communication Practitioner
Tel: 041-504 2160