The Public Intellectualism of Phyllis Ntantala

23 September 2022 -23 September 2022 @ 13:00 - 14:00


September 23, 2022
01:00 PM - 02:00 PM
Event Type:
Public Lecture


Bongani Nyoka
046 603 8665


South African scholars have not substantively engaged with how they have conceptualised who the public intellectual is and where intellectual activity occurs. The dominance of men in the scholarship has been attributed to researchers defining public intellectuals according to the roles and functions they supposedly perform. Consequently, intellectual activity has been confined to the public sphere to be performed by a male figure. This has encouraged the under-exploration of how African/Black women have pursued and enacted public intellectualism. In South Africa, Black women have been erased or marginalised from genealogical accounts of public intellectualism. Erasure has occurred despite their visibility in the fight against colonialism and apartheid. Black women are and have always been public intellectuals; this is a matter of historical fact and necessity. Their public intellectualism is characterised by the drive to bring the concerns of Black women into the public sphere. Through invoking corporeality, their intellectual ideas and contributions have endeavoured to make black women’s lives and experiences knowable. Resultantly, black women intellectuals have illuminated the contours of the public sphere to showcase and challenge its exclusions or ideological limitations. The public intellectualism of Phyllis Ntantala is emblematic of this trend. Ntantala’s public intellectualism is marked by fluidity, where issues confined to the private sphere informed her work in the public sphere. Ntantala centres rural black women in her intellectual corpus to fully describe and explain the causes of racial capitalism and oppression during colonialism and apartheid. By doing so, Ntantala demonstrated how so-called public issues derived their rationale and depended on private matters. The ways that Ntantala and other black women pursued, and enacted public intellectualism urges us to reconsider how we might re-envision who the public intellectual is and what counts as intellectual activity.


Zaphesheya Dlamini completed a master’s at the University of Pretoria, whose thesis was on black women’s public intellectualism. The study focused on the intellectual ideas and contributions of Phyllis Ntantala. She has worked as a researcher in parliament and recently as the promotions and communications officer for the Embassy of Sweden. In September 2022, she will commence reading for an MSc African Studies.



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