UKZN’s John Langalibalele Dube Lecture Focuses on Decolonisation Debate
The decolonisation debate was the focus of historian Professor Nomalanga Mkhize’s 2020 Annual UKZN John Langalibalele Dube Memorial Lecture.
Titled: Locating the Umbilical Cord in Africa: Why the South African Decolonisation Debate Must Resist North and Latin American Academic Trends, the lecture - presented virtually - underscored the importance of “African-centred knowledge for the sake of building a real and credible concept of a future”.
Mkhize, who is the Head of the Department of History and Political Studies at the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, said ‘decoloniality, or decolonial studies, was popularised largely by Latin America where the pre-eminent scholar of the paradigm, Walter Mignolo, resides.’
Referring to decolonisation in different parts of the world, she said Mignolo argued that ‘decolonial paths have one thing in common, it is the colonial wound.’
Mkhize said a problem that senior African historians and sociologists had with the paradigm was that ‘decoloniality as a paradigm gives us all the words, all the English words, to describe our grievances, but it does not spell out a method of how to resolve them.
‘This readiness and combativeness waiting to fight the coloniality wherever you see it becomes a practice of focusing on coloniality itself,’ she said. ‘Put differently, you keep focusing on whiteness and its manifestations – whether it’s a Clicks advert or it’s a question of land dispossession, all these things now become your problem.’
Mkhize emphasised the lack of an umbilical-sense in decoloniality. ‘It lacks roots in an African intellectual tradition of questioning that comes from the many spaces from which we have derived as intellectuals and Africans.’
Mkhize stressed that her “hard-line” talk was deliberately provocative in order to emphasise and spark debate on the topic.
She outlined the history of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, including the protests stemming from the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in the United States, saying that a “current of discontent” due to the coronavirus might have contributed to the protests in the US as many people felt helpless during the pandemic.
She speculated that while the #BLM protests gained traction quickly across the world, the uptick of the hashtag was problematic in the South African context. ‘The #BLM framework interestingly and ironically also seems to appeal to the well-educated, opinionated, international, Black elite who travel the globe as the general global middle-class does.’ She posed the challenging question, ‘Are we (the Black elite) not closer to George Floyd’s murderers than to George Floyd, the victim himself?’
The respondent, PhD candidate and researcher at the University’s Maurice Webb Race Relations Unit, Mr Lukhona Mnguni underscored the importance of “mining out the buried narratives and histories” in order to address the deficit of historical scholarship and knowledge.
UKZN’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Humanities Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize paid tribute to the late John Dube who was the first president of the African National Congress (ANC) and founder of the Ilanga newspaper.
The John Langalibalele Dube Chair in Rural Education at UKZN, Professor Relebohile Moletsane gave an overview and history of the JL Dube lecture, which began in 2003. Highlights included the 2014 lecture by activist, actor, and storyteller Dr Gcina Mhlophe, who paid homage to Nokuthela Dube, the first wife of John Langalibalele Dube in a talk titled: Writing Women, Gendering History: What Would it Mean to Look at the 20th Anniversary of South Africa’s Democracy from the Perspective of Nokuthela Dube?
Moletsane commended the Dube family and Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize, Professor David Spurrett and Professor Thabo Msibi for their ongoing support of the lecture series.
Speaking on behalf of the Dube family, Mr Langa Dube thanked the University for keeping his grandfather’s legacy alive.
The lecture, hosted annually by the College of Humanities, with support from the JL Dube Institute, was facilitated by the University’s Professor Simangaliso Kumalo and included a poignant poem by UKZN lecturer, Ms Ongezwa Mbele.
Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer