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Professorial inauguration of Professor Zilibele Mtumane, Professor in African Languages

The professorial inauguration for Professor Zilibele Mtumane took place on Tuesday, 16 August 2022 at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

Prof Mtumane, the HOD for the Department of African Languages in the Faculty of Humanities addressed the dignitaries present, including Dr Nolitha Vukuza, UJ Senior Executive Director and MEC member, the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Humanities Professor Kammila Naidoo and other invited guests for the occasion.

The topic of his address “Have Africans Ever Been ‘Non-Believers’?” explored how, since colonisation in Africa, Africans have had to bear with the label of being unbelievers.

“Those who colonised and oppressed the indigenous people of the continent, saw it fit to label the aboriginals even as kaffirs. While this label has been used for a long time to refer to Africans, an important question is whether it befits them.”

His address focused on that matter with an attempt to prove whether that was the case or not.

“Ideas have been solicited from works that comment on the use of this term and those that reveal the religious nature of Africans. An attempt is also made to define the concept of kaffir, for a clear understanding of its meaning and origin.”

Prof Mtumane’s research interests include African literature, African culture, and translation. His publications, together with the supervision of postgraduate students he is also involved in, are his contribution to the academic world. He hopes to use the new achievement, not only for further developing himself but assisting up and coming academics to have their dreams come true as well. He has also held various leadership and managerial positions.

During his address, Prof Mtumane added that in traditional African culture, people are believed to approach God through ancestors.

The period when Africans began to worship God may also be regarded as running back indefinitely.

Using isiXhosa phrases as examples, Prof Mtumane argued that since Africans’ existence, they had a religion and belief that always involved the worship of God.

In another example, Prof Mtumane questioned the popular view that it is the westerners who introduced God to Africans.

“What they might have introduced is the manner of worshipping God, that was probably different from that of the aboriginals. Otherwise, worshipping God has always been part of the life of Africans.”

He added: “God is generally associated with kindness, justice, benevolence, and all other positive attributes. Those who labelled Africans as kaffirs do not seem to have demonstrated these attributes towards Africans. Instead, they are the ones who oppressed the latter and barbarically dispossessed them of their land. On the other hand, Africans never left their land to rob other nations of their possessions. Instead, they persevered through the atrocities committed by others on them.

The Europeans’ labelling Africans as kaffirs then, is more like pointing at the Africans with one finger, while three fingers are pointing back at them. If being kaffirs would be categorised, the Europeans, based on their actions towards Africans, would be more of Kaffirs than Africans.”

He concluded that it was and still is an error and misnomer to refer to Africans by these titles.

“Africans did and still do not deserve to be referred to as non-believers, heathens, and kaffirs. Instead, it could be suggested for those who saw it fit to label them in this manner, to check, based on their treatment of Africans, how far these labels are from themselves.”

A brief response by Dr Dumisani Sibiya, award winning author and lecturer in the Department of African Languages followed Prof Mtumane’s address.

Watch the inauguration here:

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