Harare – Renowned Zimbabwean author Ignatius Mabasa has become the first person in the world to submit a doctoral thesis written in ChiShona.
ChiShona is an indigenous spoken by many Zimbabweans and in parts of Mozambique.
Mabasa, whose catalogue of novels includes masterpieces like Mapenzi, said he wanted to produce an academic work that represented who he was as an African.
Speaking to The Southern Times Arts, Mabasa – who submitted his thesis titled Chave chemutengure vhiri rengoro: Husarungano nerwendo rwengano dzevaShona (“The folktale in confrontation with a changing world: a Shona storyteller`s autoethnography”,) at South Africa’s Rhodes University – said he hoped his submission would inspire a new breed of academics who actively take steps to decolonise African academia.
“The elephant must after his nature trumpet and not meow like a cat. I am a Shona storyteller, filmmaker and author who started telling stories before I could read or write,” Mabasa said.
He identifies his work as an act of resistance.
“Decolonisation of knowledge is the way to go for Africa. Our indigenous knowledge systems are us. I think we have done enough talking and explaining, we now need to salvage, contextualise and apply knowledge. Look at the Zumbani rush in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
The path Mabasa walked was by no means easy – but it was certainly gratifying.
He had to work two-fold.
“Engaging with deep philosophical scholarly ideas and translating those ideas into Shona without aborting meaning was quite a feat. So, in the end I was like a peace negotiator – being sensitive to the needs of both sides- the Shona worldview that I was trying to represent and the scholars,” said Mabasa.
The process of researching, compiling and writing the project took three years and fortunately for Mabasa he had his compatriot on the supervision panel.
“I was supervised by two doyens, Professor Russell Kaschula and Russel Herbet Chimhundu. Professor Kaschula had oversight of the proposal, its approval, the methodology and structural matters. Professor Chimhundu came to look at the content, soundness of the theory and the accuracy of the information,” he explained.
He hopes his work sets a precedent for like-minded scholars.
“There are so many people in academia who have applauded me and expressed disappointment that they have not been allowed to what I have done in our indigenous languages. We need to decolonise research and allow the African story and way of doing things be on the agenda.”
Mabasa will be conferred with a doctorate this April.
The University of Zimbabwe lecturer joins other visionary academics like Dr Hleze Kunju, whose doctoral thesis is based on Xhosa people who settled in Zimbabwe in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Rhodes University`s language policy allows the writing of academic work in indigenous languages and scholars are increasingly making full use of this opportunity.