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South African scholar presents PhD work in native language

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Anastacia Mamalobo, PhD

Anastacia Mamalobo, PhD

A South African Doctorate graduate at the University of Pretoria has stirred the world of academia in the nation by reading out her PhD abstract in Sepedi, the kind of linguistic unshackling advocated for by renowned Kenyan author, Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

Sepedi, also known as Sesotho sa Leboa/Northern Sotho, is the fourth largest language in South Africa, and also one of its eleven official languages. It is also an official language of the University of Pretoria, and PhD Anastacia Mamalobo decided to use it in writing her thesis.

No, her field of study wasn’t the language itself, where using the tongue wouldn’t seem particularly out of place; she was enrolled at the prestigious Gordon Institute of Business Studies, and her thesis interrogated “the human capital investments and skills specific to the different entrepreneurship phases.”

A statement from the university acknowledges this as the first time that a PhD abstract has been read in Sepedi in the history of the university, which has been in existence for more than a century and dominates graduate studies in South Africa.

Decolonizing the Mind

Presenting literature in native African languages as Anastacia Mamalobo, PhD, has done, is something that would please Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o to no end, as doing so “later opens the language for philosophy, science, technology, and all other areas of human creative endeavors,” to quote his book, Decolonizing the Mind: the Politics of Language in African Literature.

It’s a book whose rallying cry has been implemented at least one other time.

In 2008, Gatua wa Mbugwa (a Kenyan) made history at the University of Wyoming by submitting a doctoral dissertation written entirely in his native Gikuyu (the largest Bantu language in Kenya) to the Department of Plant Sciences. This wasn’t the first time he’d done such a thing; his master’s thesis was also written in Gikuyu.

Prof Ngugi praised him for having “almost single-handedly invented scientific Gikuyu language, thus proving that scientific research can be reported in an African language without loss of scientific content and value.”