Stellenbosch University’s Historical Trauma and Transformation Research Initiative (HTTRI) hosted a dialogue between world-renowned Indian academic Professor Homi Bhabha and eminent South African novelist and academic, Professor Njabulo Ndebele on Thursday night.
Points of discussion included similarities between the political climates of their home countries, the tensions between people of different social and economic class and ethical considerations of modern democracies.
Both professors were born in times of social change and upheaval.
Professor Ndebele started the dialogue by joking that he was the same age as apartheid but that he has outlived apartheid.
Professor Bhabha described his childhood as “living in a kind of transition”, born in 1949, two years after India achieved independence.
He described the Indian democracy as a “rich grafting of traditions and culture”, a sentiment Prof Ndebele agreed with about South Africa.
Third-year Theology student Marisa Passenz (20) said: “I felt so honoured to be in the same room as these academic giants, I found the discussion very enlightening.”
Kaliope Geldenhuys (21), a third-year BA Development and Environment student said: “I enjoyed the evening, although it was not what I was expecting. I took away a lot of life lessons from their narratives.”
Professor Bhabha is viewed as the world’s leading post-colonial literary theorist and is the Director of the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University.
Professor Ndebele is the Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, the Chair of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, as well as a poet, novelist and essayist.
The dialogue was moderated by the HTTRI chairwoman Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela.
Tumi Mpofu, a Masters student affiliated with the HTTRI, said that the conversation moved between the “experiental and the conceptual” and that she “walked away knowing a bit more about the two speakers not only as scholars but as people”. She believes that the sense of vulnerability created through these conversations allows for a more meaningful form of engagement.
SU vice-chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers and his wife Catherine were also in attendance.
The event took place at the Attie van Wyk auditorium at the Faculty of Theology.
This talk follows another held on Tuesday in which Bhabha engaged on the theme of “Engaged Scholarship and Ethical Citizenship”. The following day, Bhabha engaged with Tamar Garb of the University of London and artist Sue Williamson at the SU Museum. – Welile Makena and Dalaine Krige