UKZN hosted an international colloquium on Mazisi Kunene’s contribution to African Scholarship. The two-day event was held at UKZN’s Westville campus from 4- 5 December 2017.

The late Professor Mazisi Kunene, who was an alumnus of the University of Natal and had worked at the University’s Departmentof ZuluLanguage and Literature, was a literary icon, poet and freedom fighter. His literary works were originally written in isiZulu before they were translated into other languages. They include two of his most celebrated works, Emperor Shaka the Great and Anthem of the Decades.

The Minister of Arts and Culture, the Honourable Nathi Mthethwa, who delivered the opening address, paid tribute to Professor Kunene who he said ‘has drunk very deeply from the wells of Africa’s classical pre-colonial civilizations.’

Minister Mthethwa commended the poet laureate for his literary contributions, especially during a difficult time in South Africa. He said: ‘He is one among a generation of African writers, poets and scholars who came into their own during the darkest period in this country’s history.

‘Amongst his peers we can cite the likes of Can Themba, Nat Nakasa and Peter Abrahams to state but a few. What set him apart from his generation is the fact that he made it his mission to write in his mother tongue.’

Professor Molefi Kete Asante from Temple University in the USA delivered the keynote address on Afrocentricity and the Decolonisation of Education. Regarded as the founder of the theory of Afrocentricity, Asante has supervised more than 140 PhD dissertations and written more than 550 articles and essays for journals, books and magazines.

Professor Asante, who considers Kunene as his mentor, recalled the times they had spent together in the USA. He fondly remembered Kunene’s love of a good argument and his great humour and referred to him as a ‘living example of Afrocentricity’.

Asante encouraged those present to embrace their culture. ‘The beginning of your journey is always self-consciousness,’ he said. ‘There is nothing more powerful than our culture. When we are without it, we are lost. When we have it, we are stronger.’

The Director of the Department of Science and Technology-National Research Foundation Centre in Indigenous Knowledge Systems (CIKS), Professor Hassan Kaya, said the colloquium was held to ‘celebrate the works of an African scholar’.

UKZN’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Deresh Ramjugernath commended the late Kunene’s wife, Mrs Mathabo Kunene, for her efforts in ensuring that the Mazisi Kunene collection is ‘protected and available’ to people on the African continent and globally.

Ramjugernath noted the importance of language in ‘forging social cohesion’ and paid tribute to isiZulu for its ‘comparable expressive power’.

Highlights from the colloquium include UNISA’s Professor Simphiwe Sesanti talk on Emperor Shaka The Great: Professor Mazisi Kunene’s Afrocentric Reinterpretation and Representation of King Shaka’s Quest for Meritocracy; and a guided tour of the Mazisi Kunene Museum.

The colloquium was hosted by DST-NRF Centre in Indigenous Knowledge Systems (CIKS) at UKZN, in collaboration with the Mazisi Kunene Foundation, UKZN’s Afrikan Emancipation Student Movement and the Institute for African Renaissance Studies (UNISA).

Words by Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer captainr@ukzn.ac.za

Photograph by Albert Hirasen