DR Ranka Primorac joins the English Department as Senior Research Associate, from July 2016. Dr Primorac is a Lecturer in English at the University of Southampton. She has degrees from the universities of Zagreb, Zimbabwe and Nottingham Trent, and is an Associate of the Department of African Languages and Cultures at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London. She sits on the editorial boards of The Journal of Commonwealth Literature and the Journal of Southern African Studies, as well as on the Council of the African Studies Association of the UK (ASAUK), and co-edits the new African Articulations book series (Boydell and Brewer).
Dr Primorac’s research interests include African literatures and cultures (with emphasis on Southern Africa), world literary systems, narrative constructions of space-time, the social functioning of literary fictions, city cultures and texts, and new cosmopolitanisms. She has written widely about Zimbabwe’s literary cultures. Among her book-length publications are The Place of Tears: The Novel and Politics in Modern Zimbabwe (2006), the co-edited (with JoAnn McGregor) Zimbabwe’s New Diaspora (2010) and the edited Africa’s City Textualities (2010).
Dr Primorac was Visiting Professor with the Zambia Open University in Lusaka in 2013, convened the literary stream at the 50th biennial African Studies Association (ASA) UK conference at the University of Sussex in 2014, and gave a keynote address at the Environment, Race, and Land Use conference at Rhodes University in 2015. She returned to Rhodes University in July 2016, where she gave a public lecture and conducted a workshop aimed at undergraduate and postgraduate students, as part of her inauguration. She took time out of her busy schedule to chat briefly (and candidly) with Aretha Phiri about the place of African literature within the context of the transformation of Higher Education.
What is your take on the widespread calls to decolonise Higher Education, and on the specific call, in South Africa, to Africanise the curricula?
Ranka Primorac: I am open to the possibilities of improving our institutions and curricula inherent in those calls. The main thing is to agree on what exactly is meant, in each context, by ‘decolonisation’ and ‘Africanisation’. I am listening to those debates as carefully as I can. Coming to Rhodes has helped me to do so more attentively.
How, if at all, do you see this being achieved, particularly within your field of literature?
Ranka Primorac: I am in favour of decentering and pluralising the genres, languages and media of the texts we teach, as much as circumstances allow. Let’s not take canons at face value!
What does a white, European academic have to contribute to what has become for many black South Africans, such a sensitive topic and debate? More specifically, what right does a white, European academic have to interrogate and speak about African literature?
Ranka Primorac: She has the right to participate in sensitive debates if invited to do so by the participants whose lives are affected by the debates’ outcomes. Ideally, the contribution would be a sympathetic outside view.
About your second question: ‘African literature’ is (in its current mainstream usage: as a canon) a transnational construct. Europeans’ contributions to it have always been multiple and complex. Africa’s readers, writers and intellectuals have always known how to differentiate between welcome and unwelcome outside interventions. That is, of course, also the case now, and is as it should be.
We are a relatively small university. What persuaded you to take up the post of Senior Research Associate in the Rhodes English Dpt? What kind of relationship do you envisage with the department and Rhodes?
Ranka Primorac: I was attracted by the possibility of open collegial dialogue about books and culture, and how they circulate. This first visit explored some possible topics. We’ll refine those topics in the years to come.
What is your impression of Rhodes and the English Dpt? And of our students?
Ranka Primorac: The Rhodes colleagues and students are a courteous, smart, imaginative and hard-working academic community. I loved engaging with you. Yes, the provocations, too. I am looking forward to the next visit.
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