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Gaining a strong sense of being African.

Date Released: Wed, 1 April 2015 15:48 +0200

Dr Nomalanga Mkhize was awarded a Mellon Next Generation Academic Programme lectureship from 2004 – 2006 when she completed her Master’s degree. Dr Mkhize is a lecturer in the History Department today.

After Dr Mkhize completed her undergraduate and Honours degree in the History Department at Rhodes, the then Head of Department, Distinguished Professor Paul Maylam, recommended that she apply for a Mellon lectureship to do her Master’s through the Next Generation Academic Programme.

“The interview for the post was a highly disconcerting experience as the panel, which included all the Deans, made it clear that they felt I was too young and inexperienced to become a lecturer,” she recalls.

“I was 22 and didn’t feel this should be held against me as I had achieved distinctions throughout my undergraduate degree and Honours, all at Rhodes. I told the panel that what I lacked in teaching experience I would soon gain, but when I walked out of that interview, I did not think I would be accepted.”

As it turns out she was awarded the lectureship and she believes this had a lot to do with Prof Maylam’s confidence in her.

“As a highly respected senior academic he put a strong argument forward for me and assured the panel that I would manage fine,” she explains, adding that had Prof Maylam not fought for her and championed her, she might have fallen by the wayside and left academia for good.

“We all need champions and I think it is very important that lecturers champion promising young postgraduates and academics,” says Dr Mkhize who proved a natural at teaching and who completed her Master’s in 18 months.

“It was hard work and Prof Maylam made sure, as per the programme requirements, that I didn’t have a heavy teaching load and that I completed the modules required in the Postgraduate Diploma in Education required of lecturers completing their Master’s on the Next Generation Academic Programme.

“As the Head of Department he led a very nurturing department, including the admin staff. From the moment I walked in with my Honours degree I was treated as an equal. There was no distinction between junior and senior lecturers; all the lecturers had a strong commitment to academic autonomy and respect for peers.”

She describes Prof Maylam as “a wonderful mentor and supervisor” who looked ahead and saw the need to develop postgraduate students and young lecturers to the best of their ability.

“The Maylam approach to teaching is to offer students and young academics a hook that excites them and gives them the confidence to think independently at the highest level,” she says.

“He also encouraged me to participate in the University’s institutional life. His entire outlook as an intellectual and academic is someone who nurtures young academics. It is who he is, and I appreciate and admire this.”

Dr Mkhize’s driving force as a lecturer is to follow this example and to help students gain a strong sense of themselves as young Africans and of African history.

“During my Mellon years I set out to bring history close to my students and to dispel the traditional approach of this distant examination of what history is and of what Africa is,” she explains.

She initiated an extremely popular third year course in the History of Crime, looking at the rise of prisons, the drug trade and organised crime globally.

“It was my way of encouraging them to develop a global perspective of how societies develop and how certain people come to be criminals. It equips them with a better understanding of contemporary society and what happens within it.”

The students loved it. One of her students, Craig Paterson, went on to do his Master’s on the history of the dagga trade in South Africa, followed by his PhD on traditional horse racing in the Transkei.

“These are relevant historical subjects; they excite students to research further and hopefully become exciting academics,” she says.

Dr Mkhize subsequently left Rhodes to pursue her PhD through the University of Cape Town. During this time she received enticing job offers outside of academia, but she realised that she would not be fulfilled; that her fulfillment lay in academic teaching and research.

“There is a freedom and autonomy in academia that appeals to me and it is not something that money can buy. As an academic you have the privilege to speak your mind, and that is rare.”

After graduating with her PhD in 2012, she returned to Rhodes in 2012 where she joined the space that inspiring black academics have historically occupied – and continue to occupy.
“It’s important for me to contribute to the black intellectual tradition and to comprehensive transformation at all levels of university life,” she says.

Writer & Editor : Heather Dugmore

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