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Postgraduate Course Information

Profile

African Literature at Wits is the only department of its kind in South Africa and has, over the past three decades, produced high calibre graduates who have gone into research, publishing, journalism, creative writing and academic careers. We examine a wide range of African cultural forms, their transmission and their transversal of geographic, cultural, political and disciplinary boundaries. Our students adopt perspectives that take seriously our location in southern Africa while also taking into account the global relevance of African literary practice. Staff members offer courses which explore critical, theoretical, and historical issues, as well as problems of representation in the broadest sense. This kind of approach expands the field of literature to include a wide range of cultural practices from canonical texts of African writing to artefacts of visual and popular culture, revealing the role literature in its broadest sense plays as a form of exchange and expression. Our commitment to high quality is reflected in one of the highest rates of postgraduate student research publication among literature departments in the country.

Our course offerings at the Honours and Masters level include African Popular Media and the Novel; Critical Approaches to African Literature; Memory, Violence and Representation in Africa; Contemporary Trends in African Literature;  Narratives of the Indian Ocean; Writing Slavery in the African World; and Feeling, Sentiment and Sensation.

Admission Requirements

The department will consider Honours applications from students who have scored an average of 65% in a literature or cognate subject for their undergraduate degree. Masters applicants need to have attained at least 65% for their Honours degrees. In exceptional circumstances, and subject to University admission rules, the department may consider applications to the degree of Masters by students who have produced a mini-dissertation of high quality in the course of their undergraduate studies at a non-South African institution. PhD applicants are required to have attained at least 70% for their Masters on the Wits grading scale, the comparable international grade being an upper-second class pass on the UK scale or a grade point average (GPA) of 3.3 on the US scale.

Applicants who do not have the required qualifications in a literature or related subject, but who have demonstrated research interest in African literatures must contact the department before submitting their applications. Such applications shall be reviewed in line with the Wits policy on the Recognition of Prior Leaning (RPL).

Required Documents

The following documents are required for postgraduate applicants to the department:

  • Certified copy of degree certificate/s
  • Certified copy of academic transcript/s
  • SAQA evaluation or proof of application for such evaluation (for international applicants and South African students who have studied abroad)
  • Proof of English proficiency (for international applicants, unless medium of instruction was English)
  • Concept paper (for MA by dissertation and PhD applicants only)

Applicants may also be required to submit a CV, a sample of written work (an undergraduate term essay, an Honours research essay, or MA dissertation/research report as appropriate), a writing portfolio, and academic references.

Programme 

African Popular Media and the Novel

As many previous studies have demonstrated, the African novel has often emerged from a background of popular media such as newspapers, periodicals, magazines, pamphlets,  popular novelettes, films, television, popular drama, letters, popular religious media and so on.  As a recent study puts it “Ephemeral printed publications have helped to stimulate literary creativity by offering regular outlets for short fiction.”  These media often provide the opportunity for stylistic innovation and generic experimentation which subsequently informs the more ‘canonical’ novels that emerge.  More recently as well, this field of popular cultural production which straddles the oral and the written had been the subject of growing academic investigation, partly because it is in this zone that the bulk of African cultural activity occurs. 

These experiments with genre in popular fiction are also a way of imagining and speaking to new audiences and publics.  The genetic innovation of popular fiction in Africa is often also a way of providing narrative expression to new forms of experience.  By paying close attention to the forms of popular fiction, this course aims to raise preliminary questions about the formation of reading publics in Africa. These publics are in turn often tied up with powerful ethnic, racial, gendered, religious and regional identities and the course will ask how these identities interact with the ideas and notions of official culture. 

This course is offered at both HONS and MA level.

Contact:
Prof. Pumla Dineo Gqola
Pumla.Gqola@wits.ac.za

Black Intellectual Traditions And Histories

In the field of black intellectual and artistic history, the approach of most research has been to explore a range of canonical thinkers and artists, focusing on the contexts and influences of their ideas. 

More recently, the study of black intellectual history has challenged this national framework and has insisted on understanding black intellectual traditions as being fundamentally transnational. Such an approach requires that one also pay equal attention to the circulation, materiality and reception of ideas, intellectuals and creative work within geo-political dynamics. 

This course is offered at MA level. 

Contact:
Prof Bheki Peterson
Bhekizizwe.Peterson@wits.ac.za

Contemporary Trends In African Literature

Over the last two decades there has been the emergence of a distinct ‘third generation’ of African writers including figures like Dangarembga, Okri, Couto, Vassanji, Gurnah, Hove, Abani, Adichie, Isegawa, Tuma, Wainaina, Mpe, Duiker, Oyeyemi, Laing, Bandele-Thomas and so on. In theme, style and content, this cohort is distinct from the ‘classical’ writers of the canon and tends to take up issues that have emerged in other ‘postcolonial’ literatures. This shift in literary emphasis has been accompanied by a shift in critical focus and much African literary theory is now dominated by various forms of ‘postcolonial’ theory. This course will read the works of the ‘third generation’ of writers through the lenses of recent critical theory. 

This course is offered at both HONS and MA level. 

Contact:
Prof. Dan Ojwang
Dan.Ojwang@wits.ac.za

Critical Approaches To African Literature

The appreciation of African Literature has been a site of intense debate since the international prominence of African Studies and Literature in the ’50s and ’60s. This course will introduce students to a range of debates that have characterised the modern development of African literary criticism. Equally central to our enquiry will be the need to register the confluence of African literary criticism and concurrent developments in the discourse of African history, politics, economics, sociology and culture. Although the emphasis in the course will be on exploring theoretical positions, seminar presentations must integrate the arguments explored with empirical investigations of texts related to the themes, issues of aesthetics under discussion. 

This course is offered at both HONS and MA level. 

Contact:
Prof. Bheki Peterson
Bhekizizwe.Peterson@wits.ac.za

Memory, Violence And Representation

The complex colonial and post-independence experiences of African countries have thrown into sharp relief the saliency and vicissitudes of memory, particularly in societies that have been marked by violent ‘racialised’/‘ethnic’ conflicts. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, together with the call for or implementation of similar commissions in other African countries, has refocused attention on the question of memory, a topic which has been debated for some time in a range of academic disciplines. The course is a multifarious exploration of memory work, and its import for, in particular, the making of political subjectivities such as identity and nationhood. It scrutinizes the modes of memory work: the acts, practices and politics of remembrance and amnesia across a range of representational discourses and forms. 

This course is offered at MA level. 

Contact:
Prof Bheki Peterson
Bhekizizwe.Peterson@wits.ac.za

Narratives Of The Indian Ocean

This module aims to investigate the extent to which the Indian Ocean can be considered as a social, economic, legal and cultural arena. The module raises these issues with a view to understanding their broader consequences for South Africa’s future in the Indian Ocean. 

The course examines a range of literary texts which investigate different aspects of the Indian Ocean and its cultural trajectories. 

This course is offered at both HONS and MA level. 

Contact:
Prof. Isabel Hofmeyr
Isabel.Hofmeyr@wits.ac.za

Sentiment, Sensation And Feeling

Many recent debates about the form, narrative and genres of literary and cultural production emphasize an interest in intimacy. This course offers an important set of related interventions concerning intimacy and its connections with political, ethical and theoretical relations to knowledge, ontology, difference and representation. The course examines the role of feeling, sentiment and sensation through literary and cultural productions that instigate affective publics. The course is interdisciplinary in aim, considering literary and philosophical texts, along with a range of writing on affect, history, psychoanalysis, feminism, queer studies, critical race theory, memory studies, and cultural studies. Of interest are theories that connect individual affective experience to the social, structural and historical. Our topics consider the uses of sentiment, nostalgia, the senses, popular culture, and feeling, intimacy and distance, and racial melancholy, aesthetics, visuality, the body and objects. In this course, emotions are understood as a source of knowing. Students will be introduced to phenomenology as methodology. We examine the ways that sovereign bodies like the state are constituted and organized through the politics of sexuality, race, gender and class difference and how bodies, objects and space get marked through such processes. Students are also introduced to key concepts on space and time. Through our readings we raise questions about subjectivity, performativity, agency, corporeality and identity. Through explorations of various genres in fiction, performance, ethnography, memoir and film we examine how social practices enable and produce sensual and sensuous subject positions. Corporeal practices are understood to be mediated by the visceral, affective, sentimental and sensual. 

This course is offered at both HONS and MA level. 

Contact:
Dr. Danai S Mupotsa
danai.mupotsa@wits.ac.za

Writing Slavery In The African World

Writing about slavery has historically called up the intersections of fiction and history in the epistemic legitimation of forms of enshacklement. In other words, the imagination is foregrounded in documents that justify slavery of Africans and South East Asians from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. Edward Long, prolific and celebrated historian of the Caribbean, argued that the enslavement of Africans could be justified since Africans were closer to orangutans than to other ‘races’. What would crystallise into scientific racism as well as many ideas about race and sexuality are traceable to fictions whose travel routes parallel those of enslaved bodies. 

At the same time, alongside revisionist and postcolonial historical inquiry, the imagination has been important in revisiting the relationships between subjectivity and slavery. Faced with the paucity of written record detailing the experience of slavery from the perspective of the enshackled, creative writers and other artists have increasingly turned to a project of memory – one that is imaginative rather than recuperative. 

This course focuses on both the ways in which fictions are addressed in slave narratives as well as the ways in which fiction has provided a space for re-imagining the humanity of those objectified by history. ‘Writing slavery in the African world’ will start with a reading of select slave narratives and then proceed to examine the ways in which twentieth and twenty-first century literature has chosen to revisit colonial slavery. It will read slave narratives, poetry, historic novels, films and critical material from the African continent, North America and the Caribbean, attentive to both the similarities and differences articulated in the field of slave memory studies. 

This course is offered at both HONS and MA level. 

Contact:
Prof. Pumla Dineo Gqola
Pumla.Gqola@wits.ac.za

Postgraduate research areas include:

  • African fiction and Criticism
  • Cultural Studies
  • African Popular Culture
  • African and Diasporic Intellectual History
  • Gender Studies
  • Orality and Literacy
  • Social Histories of Reading and Writing
  • Autobiography
  • Performance Studies
  • Film Studies

Some prominent graduates of the Discipline of African Literature include:

  • Muff Anderson – journalist and scholar
  • Ferial Haffejee – journalist and newspaper editor
  • Kgafela oa Magogodi – poet and scholar
  • Siphiwo Mahala - novelist
  • Niq Mhlongo – novelist
  • Nthikeng Mohlele – novelist
  • Motshidi Motshekgwa - actress
  • Phaswane Mpe – novelist and scholar
  • James Ogude - scholar

Contact

All postgraduate applicants are required to contact the departmental administrator, Mrs Merle Govind (Merle.Govind@wits.ac.za) before and immediately after the submission of an application. This is to enable the department to track the application, to make requests for outstanding documents, or to notify the applicant of any additional requirements.

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