Centre for Civil Society hosts Great African Thinkers Series
The first seminar in the Great African Thinker series was hosted by UKZN’s Centre for Civil Society (CCS) within the School of Built Environment and Development Studies (BEDS).
The seminar, facilitated by Dr Mvu Ngcoya and supported by the Critical Times, Critical Race Project, was presented by UKZN’s Professor Rozena Maart.
Commenting on the series, Ngcoya and CCS Director Ms Shauna Mottiar agreed that in most South African universities, African philosophers and thinkers were pushed to the flanks of contemporary thought and practice. ‘The few who make cameo appearances in course outlines often occupy the soft world of culture, not political economy, science, philosophy, law, or history.
‘This Seminar Series reverses the Hegelian doubt (whether Africa has a history) and imbalance by familiarising the world with the most palpable, original and inspiring contributions of African thinkers to contemporary debates, agendas and practices,’ said the facilitators. ‘It is a vibrant platform for scholars to present how insights from African thinkers have shaped their own thinking and practice. Our focus is global Africa, therefore, contributions will include key thinkers from the fractured African Diaspora displaced by slavery, colonialism, and globalisation.’
Maart spoke on: Contemplating Négritude and Black Consciousness in 21st century South Africa: Reading Anton Lembede with Paulette Nardal.
Maart focused on the work of forgotten and seldom-mentioned Paulette Nardal (1896-1985) and the contribution she, along with her four sisters, made to the intellectual thought of the Négritude movement, usually solely credited to the work of Césaire, Damas and Senghor.
‘Scholars of the Négritude movement outside of France rarely speak of her. Born in Martinique, a colony of France, Paulette Nardal has not enjoyed the same intellectual fame as her compatriot Frantz Fanon,’ said Maart.
She noted that Nardal co-founded the journal, La Revue du Monde Noir (Review of the Black World) and served as its editor, translator, and writer. ‘Teacher, literary critic, journalist, and UN delegate, her trailblazing work provided the intellectual scaffolding for the bold critiques and demands of 20th century African liberation movements,’ said Maart.
‘In a world dominated by men - ie Léopold Senghor, Aimé Césaire, Claude McKay, Alain Locke, Langston Hughes - she and her collaborators are generally relegated to the footnotes of the African intellectual tradition.’
Lembede (1914 –1947), born in KwaZulu-Natal 18 years after Paulette Nardal, is not read as he should be - as a mastermind of the ANC Youth League and for the thoughts and ideas Sobukwe and Biko later adopted,’ continued Maart.
According to her, Lembede was a philosopher and a thinker who sought to examine the relationship between consciousness and politics in ways those of his generation were simply not able to. ‘He was indeed an extraordinary intellectual and scholar. Born at the start of World War 1, and dead before the Nationalist Party’s policy of apartheid was installed, Lembede was a pioneer whose philosophical work is in serious need of resurrection,’ said Maart.
The Great African Thinkers series continues until April next year.
Words: Melissa Mungroo
Photograph: Shauna Mottiar