Centre for Civil Society and Critical Times, Critical Race Project
Great African Thinkers Seminar Series 2017 / 2018
Facilitator: Dr Mvu Ngcoya
In most South African universities, African philosophers and thinkers are pushed to the flanks of contemporary thought and practice. The few that make cameo appearances in course outlines, often occupy the soft world of culture, not political economy, science, philosophy, law, history, etc. This Seminar Series reverses this Hegelian doubt (to wit, whether Africa has a history) and imbalance by familiarizing the world with the most palpable, original inspiring contributions of African thinkers to contemporary debates, agendas and practices. It is a vibrant platform for scholars to present how insights from African thinkers have shaped their own thinking and practice. Our focus is global Africa, therefore, contributions will include key thinkers from the fractured African Diaspora who were displaced by slavery, colonialism, and globalization.
Seminar 5: Land as a multi-splendorous thing: Kwasi Wiredu on how to think about land
Speaker: Mvu Ngcoya
Date: Wednesday 30 May
Venue: CCS Seminar Room A726, Level 7, Shepstone, Howard College, UKZN
Abstract: Colonial conquest did not simply result in the disseizing of land from indigenous Africans, it also profoundly colonized people’s conception of it. Thus, debates on land, its use, and its reform often reduce to the singular, (“the land question”) as if there was simply one question, the agrarian question. Ergo, despite evidence to the contrary, contestations around land also congeal to a singular question of production (in rural areas). In this paper, I ascribe this colonization of thinking about land to what the Ghanaian philosopher Kwasi Wiredu (1996) calls the “spurious universals” of Eurocentric thought which assume a universal commensurability of values, laws, rules that govern land and its uses. Instead, Wiredu enjoins us to “exploit as much as is judicious the resources of our own indigenous conceptual schemes in our philosophical meditations…” (1997, 11). Taking his cue, the paper examines the multi-splendorous nature of people-land relations in Zulu thought and practice. I then show how pluriversal uses and conceptions of land are not simply part of livelihoods and processes of distribution but extend to moral and ethical questions that cannot be simply captured in the “agrarian question”.
Speaker Bio: Born in the undulating hills of Phatheni, Richmond, Mvu is essentially a country bumpkin — one who does enjoy fine things though, especially food. His culinary appetite has spiced his academic work with intellectual interest in the social life and political economy of indigenous vegetables (particularly imbuya). He wonders how we got to know so much about indigenous medicines, indigenous gardens, and Nguni cattle and so little about indigenous vegetables. Thus, agrarian issues such as land, land reform, small-scale agriculture, rural development, etc. form the kernel of his research interests. When he’s not thinking about food, Mvu teaches in the Development Studies programme in the School of Built Environment and Development Studies (SBEDS) where he has been since 2010. His other academic interests include investigating the role of subjugated philosophies in International Relations. He is particularly interested in the local and global significance of ubuntu, especially the contested social and political uses of this worldview. His background in International Relations theory sustains an old flame of interest in the relevance of Frantz Fanon to understanding international politics. Prior to joining UKZN, Mvu taught at American University in Washington D.C. and worked as a research analyst for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). He dabbles in poetry, plays beach volleyball and soccer, and struggles through Spanish classes during his spare time.