History was made in the 102-year history of the University of Fort Hare in South Africa as Nompumelelo Kapa became the first academic to write a Ph.D. thesis in isiXhosa, one of South Africa’s official languages. Dr. Kapa received her Ph.D. in Literature and Philosophy authored in isiXhosa.
The title of her thesis is “Aspects of Culture and the Humour that Influence Naming in Selected IsiXhosa Texts: What’s in a Name?” Kapa, a high school teacher at Beaconhurst High, is very passionate about the preservation of local languages and the decolonisation of education. She teaches isiXhosa. What matters to her is her mother tongue.
Kapa’s supervisor, Professor Nomsa Satyo, who heads the African Languages department at Fort Hare, said, “This really was a thought-provoking journey. This, indeed, is a milestone. It is the first of its kind! It gives us great pleasure, therefore, to welcome her as someone who put our university on the research map. For many decades, Africa has been the only place in the world where most children are taught in the language that is not their own. This thesis places isiXhosa at the centre as far as education is concerned.”
Kapa said, “I feel very proud that I am the first one to make history at Fort Hare to write in isiXhosa. It is indeed a beautiful experience. We are talking about transforming and decolonising Africa, so isiXhosa should be considered. We also want to produce more isiXhosa writers, journalists, translators, and others. IsiXhosa has become stifled, with people finding it fashionable to write and speak in other languages, especially English.”
Local languages have formally failed to find space the contemporary African space. Kapa’s achievement is a reminder of how the European languages and also Arabic dominate Africa, while the local languages get stifled.
In April last year, Rhodes University student Hleze Kunju became the first Ph.D. student to write a thesis in isiXhosa.
It’s time Africa adopts local languages in the academic arena as far as the decolonisation process of African education is concerned.