In marking Africa Day, the Centre for African Studies (CAS) at UCT announced the appointment of esteemed Ugandan professor Mahmood Mamdani as Honorary Professor.
The appointment also serves as part of UCT’s path towards decolonising the institution. It comes almost 20 years after Mamdani left UCT following a heated falling-out with his faculty over the implementation of a foundation course on Africa that he had developed. The faculty rejected the course.
Mamdani returned to UCT to deliver the TB Davie Memorial Lecture on 22 August 2017, in what was a profoundly historic occasion for both CAS and UCT.
His lecture, titled “Decolonising the Post-Colonial University”, was delivered to a much-inspired, excited and engaged audience of hundreds of students, staff and workers. It brought to the public space the vital debates that are reverberating across South Africa’s higher education institutions.
Professor Lungisile Ntsebeza, director of CAS, said: “This appointment is particularly exciting and profoundly significant in light of the pressure from the student movements since March 2015 for UCT to be decolonised and to fundamentally transform its curricula, with numerous references by student leaders to the relevant scholarship of Mamdani.”
Once voted the world’s ninth most important public intellectual by Foreign Policy (US) and Prospect (UK) magazines, Mamdani is currently director and professor of the Makerere Institute of Social Research at Makerere University in Uganda.
He is also the Herbert Lehman Professor of Government and a professor of anthropology, African studies and political science at Columbia University.
Mamdani also served as director of the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University from 1999 to 2004, and was president of the Council for the Development of Social Research in Africa (CODESRIA) from 1999 to 2002.
“The appointment of Mamdani as Honorary Professor in CAS is therefore nothing less than institutionally historic.”
He is the author of highly respected and widely cited African studies classics such as When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, nativism and genocide in Rwanda, and Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the legacy of late colonialism, which was awarded the Herskovitz Prize of the African Studies Association and named one of Africa’s greatest books of the 20th century.
His texts have been core readings for under- and postgraduate studies at UCT and far beyond on the major debates on the study of African history and politics, exploring the intersection between politics and culture, comparative studies of colonialism, civil wars and the state, and genocide in Africa.
The Mamdani affair
The well-documented, controversial ‘Mamdani affair’ of 1996–1999 resonates with the previous infamous ‘Mafeje affair’ of 1968, when pressure from the apartheid government resulted in UCT rescinding its offer of appointing Archie Mafeje to the post of senior lecturer in social anthropology.
During his earlier tenure at UCT, Mamdani served as the first AC Jordan Chair in 1996, and later as director of CAS.
“However, once in the position, Mamdani [was] met with considerable institutional opposition to implement relevant scholarship in Africa,” Ntsebeza said.
“[Many] of the themes within his scholarship have been introduced in the highly successful foundational African Studies major first rolled out in 2017.”
The rejection of his foundation course on Africa led to Mamdani publicly critiquing UCT as promoting “Bantu studies” and “South African exceptionalism” in the guise of African studies.
“The appointment of Mamdani as Honorary Professor in CAS is therefore nothing less than institutionally historic,” Ntsebeza continued.
Almost two decades later, the core African studies course proposed by Mamdani, such as Problematising the Study of Africa, was successfully implemented as a core course at a postgraduate level in African studies.
“[Many] of the themes within his scholarship have been introduced in the highly successful foundational African studies major first rolled out in 2017,” said Ntsebeza.
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