Black Excellence: Ignatius Mabasa Becomes The First Student To Write ChiShona Ph.D Thesis At Rhodes University

by Duke Magazine

Zimbabwean student Ignatius Mabasa has received a doctorate for the first-ever thesis written in ChiShona at Rhodes University, South Africa. Mabasa, who is a popular writer, musician and storyteller, is a Ph.D. student in the African Language Studies Section in the School of Languages and Literatures. His thesis, titled CHAVE CHEMUTENGURE VHIRI RENGORO: HUSARUNGANO NERWENDO RWENGANO DZEVASHONA. The folktale in confrontation with a changing world: a Shona storyteller’s autoethnography, appears at his story as a Shona folklorist and creative writer, and the story of the Shona people, Rhodes University said.

“By using the Shona language, I am rethinking pedagogy and targeting a disenfranchised audience,” said Mabasa, on why he chose to use ChiShona. “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, labeling them, misrepresenting them.

“My thesis in Shona is part of unthinking Eurocentrism and searching for alternative epistemologies,” he said, adding that “the African cannot continue thinking as if he is still living in a colonial world, perpetuating colonial discourses and perspectives.”

Mabasa, who grew up writing short stories, said his thesis gears at decolonizing the mind and democratizing knowledge in such a way that 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.

Professor Chimhundu, a famous 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 supervised Mabasa’s thesis. They were indeed impressed with his work. “Mr. Mabasa is one of the most accomplished storytellers in Zimbabwe, hence, we decided his thesis should be written in his own language, ChiShona,” Professor Kaschula said. 

“The contribution of this thesis is ground-breaking, as it brings intellectual strength not only to the tradition, but to the people of Zimbabwe as well, at a time when we are still grappling with the role that African languages, cultures and indigenous knowledge should play in a decolonized educational curriculum,” he added.

Professor Kaschula is optimistic that many more universities in South Africa will be allowing theses to be written in languages other than English.

Mabasa, born in 1971 in Mount Darwin, a town in Zimbabwe, studied Shona and linguistics at the University of Zimbabwe before receiving a scholarship to attend the University of Oslo, where he received the M.Phil. in Media, Democracy and Development in 1998. The storyteller and musician received a Fulbright Scholarship in 1999 to teach writing and literature in Illinois. Mabasa has authored many books in English and Shona, including Mapenzi (Fools) and The Man, Shaggy Leopard and the Jackal. He founded Bhabhu Books in 2012 to publish novels and stories in Shona, Ndebele and other languages. He also has two published collections of poems in Shona: Tipeiwo Dariro and Muchinokoro Kunaka. 

Mabasa was a resident writer/storyteller at the University of Manitoba, Canada in 2010. Also, he is one of the first Zimbabwean authors to publish e-books.

Now the first Zimbabwean to write a Ph.D. thesis in Shona at Rhodes University, he believes that his thesis will make the marginalized aware of identity politics and start engaging with, and speaking to experiences shrouded in silence.

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