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Cluster of Excellence EXC 2052 - "Africa Multiple: reconfiguring African Studies"

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“The chair aims to cross-fertilize and inform epistemic changes across disciplines” – Interview with Prof. Dr. Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni


While the pandemic was in full swing in 2020, a new chair was established at the University of Bayreuth: Prof. Dr. Sabelo Ndlovu Gatsheni joined the Cluster of Excellence as head of “Epistemologies of the Global South with Emphasis on Africa”. In this interview, the renowned scholar talks about his first weeks in Germany as well as his goals and foci for the new position.

Professor Ndlovu-Gatsheni, you arrived at Uni BT in the middle of a pandemic and had to set up a brand-new chair and commence your first semester under these circumstances. How have you been coping?

My appointment coincided with the intensification of coronavirus and the lockdowns across the world. This made me happy and anxious simultaneously. Happy that I got the job but anxious that I had to prepare for the change of jobs within a constrained environment, where travel was very restricted except for repatriation flights. The Germany Embassy in Pretoria was so supportive as was the colleagues in the Human Resources and Welcome/international offices/departments. My family was also happy and anxious simultaneously because our young son had no passport yet. We had to get him one as soon as possible but again within a context where the offices were closed. Fortunately, we managed to get all the paperwork on time for me to assume duty by mid-2020.

I arrived in Bayreuth at the beginning of August 2020. I was lucky to be included in the repatriation flight for EU citizens and those travelling for employment purposes. My family joined me at the end of August 2020 also because they were allowed to board the repatriation flight for EU citizens and those travelling to join family. This meant that I had to find family accommodation very quickly and again with the help of colleagues here at Bayreuth, I managed to get the house sorted in no time.

The next challenge was to regularize our stay here which meant fulfilling various bureaucratic regulations those from the immigration office and again there was always help from my secretary and colleagues.

Work-wise, I had to hit the ground running in two ways. I had to immediately prepare for Winter Semester Teaching and also laying the foundation for the new Chair in Epistemologies of the Global South. How I coped with this was because of the support of the colleagues here in Bayreuth. I also drew from my long experience as an academic in five other universities where I worked in Zimbabwe, South Africa and the United Kingdom. That experience enabled me to cope.

You are chair of “Epistemologies of the Global South with Emphasis on Africa” – why, in your opinion, is it important to offer this scholarly focus at the University of Bayreuth?

The establishment of the Chair in Epistemologies of the Global South with Emphasis on Africa at the University of Bayreuth indicated that that the institution is on the right side of history in terms of reacting practically to the insurgent and resurgent demands for decolonization of knowledge - demands which have assumed a planetary scale. This Chair is very unique in that it is not disciplinary. This gives it the force to cross-fertilize and inform epistemic changes across disciplines. The Chair’s interventions in theory, methodology, epistemology, and praxis positions it at the cutting-edge of research, teaching and learning demanded by the 21st century. In the current century, there is no institution of higher education that can successfully continue to ignore the demands for ecologies of knowledges drawing from epistemologies of the Global South - the South being the majority world whose knowledges have been pushed to the margins since the time of colonial encounters. Thus, the Chair in Epistemologies of Global South is timely in many ways and indicates a positive attitude of the University of Bayreuth to be the leading institution in pursuit of relevant knowledge generation and teaching that is not hostage to old knowledge that is Eurocentric. I see the Chair maturing into a catalytic and galvanizing force for decolonization of epistemologies, scholarship, curriculum and pedagogies. My Chair brings fresh air of thinking across academic and intellectual traditions as well as thinking, researching and teaching beyond the prison walls of disciplines and disciplinary tribes.

What are the topics that you most want to convey to your students here at the University of Bayreuth and what are the topics you are most passionate about in your research?

I am already actively involved in teaching in Global History, Anthropology, Development Studies and BIGSAS. Underpinning what I am offering to the students is to make them aware of the complex politics of knowledge itself and to be sensitive to cognitive injustices which have deprived the modern world of access to some of the most useful knowledges about being human itself, about other visions of life and about other ways of relating to the environment in a non-colonial and non-capitalist ways - capable of serving human lives and the earth itself. In terms of research I am most passionate about recovery of epistemologies of the Global South in general and African endogenous knowledge systems in particular. I am passionate about understanding the liberatory potentials of "worlding" from the Global South. I am passionate about the feminist and womanist archives that have consistently confronted the patriarchal and sexist forms of power and oppression. I am passionate about the intellectual resources from the Black radical tradition which for centuries has been concerned about the fate of Africa and the lives of those invented as black. I am passionate about the politics of knowledge and the decolonization of institutions of higher education so as to attain ecologies of knowledges and mosaic epistemologies. In a nutshell, I am passionate about epistemic justice and epistemic freedom!

You are an important part of the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence - what are you hoping to contribute to the organization and what are you hoping to gain in return?

My engagement with BIGSAS is under the banner of “Epistemologies of the Global South: Contributions to Reconfiguration of African Studies.” This is meant to inject into the research theory from the South, epistemologies of the South, ways of decolonizing methodology, and decolonization of curriculum.  This in a way is a practical contribution to the task of reconfiguring African Studies. What my Chair is bringing is the necessity of rethinking thinking itself about Europe and Africa intellectually and academically as essential pre-requisites for reconfiguration of African Studies. What I emphasize is the necessity of serious engagement with the existing African archive and building that archive through research. My chair also emphasizes the importance of changing the consciousness of us as academics and intellectuals through voluntary subjection to the painstaking process of learning to unlearn in order to relearn. In return, I hope to see the changes influencing the broader trajectory of the University of Bayreuth and its repositioning as the most progressive institution of higher education in Germany and the world at large.  


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