Yesterday I was at the Ngugi Wa Nthiongo public lecture on Decolonisation held at Wits Theater. It started an hour late, which I don’t mind because decolonisation includes dismantling the notion of keeping the Queen’s time.
The usual chants and struggle songs ensued for almost 90 minutes before the lecture begun, while the sound people got on and off the stage tapping the mics on the podium. High school children in their various uniforms streamed in and suddenly the group singing was on stage dancing. I sipped from my cold cup of Woolies black coffee (I know, I know, I need to work on decolonising myself) anyway finally the mics worked and the speaker started singing the decolonised/original unedited national anthem (familiarise yourself with it) and at this everyone stood up, including a few disheveled uncomfortable looking white people; the clean ones in tight suits and 100% cotton shirts from Zara remained seated. Another speaker with two masters degrees tells us he was in USA and Canada and blah blah blah, then finally introduces Ngugi.
There’s a projection of the map of Africa with several continents superimposed to fit on Africa to show the true size of Africa. Ngugi touches on how Africa for centuries was always depicted as smaller than all other continents when in fact most of the continents fit into Africa- basically kudala abelung basidelala, futhi besithathela phansi. Europe has always, INTENTIONALLY, undermined Africa and its inhabitants. He goes on to emphasise that we should encourage the decolonisation of university curriculum where African linguistics will be at the center and African knowledge will run parallel with all those from other worlds. A trio of beautiful young black womxn with feisty head scarfs suddenly all decide to take down their jackets, shoulders are my weak point so for twenty minutes I’m distracted. Ngugi’s lecture was relevant but tepid (please don’t throw stones).
A young, hot, postgraduate student of Wits gets on stage and gives her response. She begins by telling us how Wits has still not lifted suspension on some of its students because of they were Fees Must Fall activists, she then touches on how the decolonisation movement must include feminism, transgender persons and their language; call people by the names they have given themselves; she then recites a long list of black womxn who are/were prolific and need to be included in the curriculum. Her peers sing praises and chants. She gets off stage.
A poet gets on stage and recites a powerful poem in four South Africa languages ending with Zulu which garners the most audible response. I realise my hand has been clutching on the cold cup of coffee for the past few hours- I sip it and watch as people leave.
I think of what Ntokozo Qwabe said about white allies, to paraphased what he said “as long as white people like us and want to be our allies the decolonisation project has not taken effect”. I say as long as we speak of decolonisation in colonised oppressive spaces, with colonisers, in the coloniser’s language, the decolonisaiton project, is but a myth. As Ngugi said, it starts home with our children, with our languages and with our knowledge and holding them in higher esteem. It begins by us shunning these “beautiful/eloquent” accents we received from our private schools and appropriating black excellence with its proximity to whiteness. It is on us to actively uphold this discourse and keep it safe from being mere rhetoric which is used by Universities such as Wits to gain brownie points for being progressive and diverse, when this is far from the truth.