History has been made by Award-winning novelist, children’s writer, dub poet and musician Ignatius Tirivangani Mabasa who wrote the first-ever ChiShona PhD thesis at Rhodes University.
The multi-talented writer who writes mainly in ChiShona was a PhD student in the African Language Studies Section in the School of Languages and Literatures at the South African university.
Later on this month, he will be receiving his Rhodes University doctorate. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the graduation ceremony will be virtual.
Mabasa’s thesis is titled “CHAVE CHEMUTENGURE VHIRI RENGORO: HUSARUNGANO NERWENDO RWENGANO DZEVASHONA. The folktale in confrontation with a changing world: a Shona storyteller’s autoethnography.”
Speaking on why he chose to write the PhD Thesis in his mother tongue, Mabasa said:
“The elephant must after his nature trumpet and not meow like a cat. I am a Shona storyteller, filmmaker and author who started telling stories before I could read or write.
“The choice to use ChiShona is a response to the exclusion and marginalisation of othered knowledges. By using the Shona language, I am rethinking pedagogy and targeting a disenfranchised audience. Brutal colonial conquest and forced acculturation have disturbed and created insecure conditions for Africans. Africans have had other people tell their stories for them – othering them, judging them, labelling them, misrepresenting them. My thesis in Shona is part of unthinking Eurocentrism and searching for alternative epistemologies. The African cannot continue thinking as if he is still living in a colonial world, perpetuating colonial discourses and perspectives.”
According to Mabasa, his use of ChiShona also acts as a challenge to gatekeeping in academia where research and the language it uses marginalises certain classes, creating dangerous dominant narratives and pseudo-realities.
In his thesis, Ignatius Mabasa uses autoethnography, which is a methodology that purposefully seeks to make research and knowledge accessible.
“I think academics usually forget that we do research in order to share information and knowledge so as to bring about positive change. My thesis is an attempt to decolonise the mind and democratise knowledge – such that our people, starting with young learners, can read and reflect on the importance of indigenous knowledge as a powerful pedagogical tool, and the power of storytelling to bring about consciousness in a cocacolonised world,” he said.
Professor Chimhundu was the one who supervised Mabasa’s thesis , as he is a well-known ChiShona scholar from Zimbabwe, and Professor Russell Kaschula, NRF SARChI Research Chair for the Intellectualisation of African Languages, Multilingualism and Education and Professor of African Language Studies at Rhodes University.