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Language at the centre of decolonisation

- Wits University

Knowledge of mother tongue is power, the lack of is enslavement says legendary author Ngugi wa Thiong'o.

The celebrated author delivered a public lecture on Thursday, 2 March 2017, at Wits University entitled Decolonise the Mind, Secure the Base, where he unpacked hidden facts and tackled distortions about the Africa.

Setting the scene, wa Thiong'o began by sharing his experience of South Africa under apartheid, a time when he was not allowed in the country. 

He proceeded to confront myths about Africa starting with the geographic size of the continent.

Almost all of the nations of the world can fit into the African continent and yet, for centuries Africa has been portrayed as a small continent on the conventional world map said the multi-decorated theorist of post-colonial literature. This is a deliberate distortion to make Africa invisible. New studies show the true size of Africa.

Wa Thiong'o praised black South African intellectuals, such as Peter Abrahams amongst others, who have contributed to African writing. Of myths and facts, he argued:

Recipients of aid from the West

Africa has been a donor to the West for centuries through its plundered resources and skills, he said. 

“For over 500 years Africa has been the donor to the world, rather than merely aid recipient as framed in West.”

Accents and Access

The African scholar argued that language is at the centre of decolonisation. Wa Thiong’o took a swipe at Africans who are unable to speak their mother tongue. His statements on accents and access received loud applause from the audience in the packed Great Hall.

“Colonialists gave us their accents in exchange for access to resources in Africa.”

“While African leaders perfect their borrowed accents, Europeans sharpen their tools to access our resources.”

Knowledge of mother tongue is empowerment; lack of knowledge is enslavement, said the multi-decorated professor.

African Intellectualism

A champion for the development of African languages, wa Thiong’o called on African intellectuals and the students to put more urgency in the institutionalisation of African languages.

African scholarship has achieved great visibility in the world but not in Africa itself as their thoughts are only written in English. This is the opposite of what was envisioned by Nkwame Nkrumah who led Ghana to independence from Britain, said wa Thiong'o.

Student activist, fallist and feminist Simamkele Dlakavu delivered the response to the main address.

Wa Thiogo's visit has been hailed as timely given the raging discussions on the decolonisation of universities and the call for curriculum reform. The lectue was jointly hosted by the National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, Wits University and Professor Xolela Mangcu.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o lecture pictures