Appointments Of Muthwa, Moleketi And January-Bardil A Historic Moment
The renaming of Nelson Mandela University in July 2017 began a new epoch for the university, as the first to carry the name of the iconic statesman – and fittingly, to be located in Eastern Cape, "Home of Legends" [according to the branding billboards]. The beginning of the year saw Nelson Mandela University announce ambassador Nozipho January-Bardill as chair of the university council.
Shortly thereafter, the university announced that Tuesday, April 17 2018 would see the inauguration of Dr Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi and Professor Sibongile Muthwa as chancellor and vice-chancellor respectively. This is a historic moment for the university and South Africa as a whole, as it is the first time an institution of higher learning has three qualified and competent black women at the helm.
Yesterday's "herstoric" event was a defining moment in how black women located in the global south are viewed both locally and globally, now and into the future. Fundamentally, an institution of higher learning serves as the ideal platform for such a paradigm shift, from one in which black women are without agency and are in a constant state of needing to be saved, to one in which they are placed at the centre of a knowledge-production hub.
Although it is cause for celebration, in the same breath it compels us to interrogate what this means within the current discourses surrounding women and women leadership. Firstly, women of the global south participate and function in a world that has a history that continues to arrogantly and consistently write their stories on their behalf.
Amid all the achievements and strides women are making – albeit at a snail's pace – they are still confronted with the burden of existing and having to navigate within an inherently patriarchal and masculine space that was never created with them in mind and which continues to exclude and reject them daily.
Secondly, a university exists as a microcosm of society and by function, it needs to adequately and appropriately mirror society. It is an open secret that our society is patriarchal and is primarily reflective of a colonial masculine culture, whereby the unabated and consistent subjugation and erasure of women in order to elevate men is business as usual.
Their transformation mandate goes beyond just filling in these strategic positions, they are faced with the responsibility to fundamentally change the culture of leadership and power as known throughout the passage of time.
This is evident when it comes to the naming of prominent landmarks such as universities – male figures are the de facto choice. Mandela Uni is not immune to this tradition, although fitting. The institution currently hosts a Mandela Shirt structure and the Beyers Naude Garden of Contemplation and Reflection, of which the only reflection needed here is that this is masculinity at its best, and the erasure of the contribution and role of women at its worst.
Thirdly, this "herstoric" trio will be forced to negotiate their role and presence in a space that is designed to deem them absent. Their transformation mandate goes beyond just filling in these strategic positions; they are faced with the responsibility to fundamentally change the culture of leadership and power as known throughout the passage of time.
Yesterday's event ushered in those voices and narratives that have been pushed to the margins and largely silenced and has bid a much-needed farewell to "his" story.
Lastly, the iconic appointments of Muthwa, Fraser-Moleketi and January-Bardill in their respective capacities, has shaken the ground – but they cannot claim this moment for themselves. This is a story that transcends their generation, it necessitates that when future generations engage "herstory" and "his" story respectively, their points of entry will be significantly different.
This moment has created an epistemic revolt of note, a paradigm shift as to how we understand knowledge and interrogate the limitations that currently exist pertaining to what constitutes knowledge.
This inquiry into the past by future generations will expose the flaw in how we have studied the past. The "herstories" future generations will encounter will be multiplied and nuanced; future generations will be able to locate themselves in these revelations of the past, and they will not have to demand to be present.
These inquiries into the past will affirm that indeed the sacrifices women have made and continue to make to advance the position of women in society have been a worthwhile endeavour. Moreover, it reiterates that "To those who oppose us, we say, 'Strike the woman, and you strike the rock'." - Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (1966).
Siphokazi Tau and Sikelela Matandela are both interns at CANRAD (The Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy) at Nelson Mandela University.