The Ma’at Institute within the College of Humanities, together with the History Partnership Engagements and Developments consortium (HPEDC) of Higher Education Institutions, Government Municipalities and Community Organisations, hosted the Engaging the World Through the African Perspective (EWTAP) conference. The EWTAP conference was funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF).
The event was held and broadcast amongst six main sites: Edendale in Pietermaritzburg; Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT); Durban University of Technology (DUT); Central University of Technology (CUT) in the Free State; UKZN Ma’at Institute; and Clermont in Durban.
The EWTAP conference brought together partners, community members, students, and academics to seek innovative ways of setting up collaborations and the recovery, documentation and preservation of local history. Furthermore, EWTAP aimed to explore and engage with transformative research methodologies and community interventions rooted in the Afrocentric paradigm.
Academic Leader in Social Work and Ma’at Institute Project Specialist Dr Sibonsile Zibane said, ‘Universities cannot continue to be ivory towers, but they should contribute to and be participants in the humanisation project of local people. The traditional power differentials should be challenged, and local communities should have access to universities, not only to be students in academic programmes but to have the ability to access facilities and resources and share their knowledge in enhancing teaching and learning contexts. Ultimately, this will contribute to a decolonised university and society.’
Delivering the conference opening address, DVC and Head of the College of Humanities Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize reflected on engaging the world through the African perspective and the importance of history, responsible research and community engagement. He asserted that indigenous knowledge systems, organic Afrocentric knowledge and communities are at the centre of knowledge production to foreground history. ‘We need total emancipation from all forms of bondage and restrictions – mental, spiritual, cultural, epistemological and economical. Our university syllabi should include history modules that focus on great historical significance to influence identity and scholarship amongst students. We should also build long-lasting partnerships with communities to preserve history,’ he said.
The Ma’at Institute, as co-hosts, used this opportunity to showcase a unique African-centred conferencing method. This unique method involved escaping the stringent elements of classism that exist in the academic field where barriers to entry to conference events are purely on academic grounds.
At the Ma’at site, the conference was attended by both academic and non-academic community leaders and members. On each day of the conference, Ma’at had a unique theme and activities targeting a specific community audience that was transported to the Ma’at EWTAP conference site. The first day of the event saw students, academics, and community scholars participating in an interactive exhibition of books and research paradigms advancing Afrocentric thought and debates. African music and poetry were also part of the day’s activities.
The next day teachers and learners from the township and rural high schools participated in storytelling (izinganekwane) and showcasing of traditional attire and communication skills. These activities were facilitated by older women from the Muthande Society for the Aged.
On the third day, Ma’at various presentations were done and broadcast to all six conference sites by the Institute’s registered intern social workers and psychologists. The presentations were on: African-centered trauma debriefing and resilience-strengthening tools; negotiating entry, establishing relationships, and building rapport through the ways of Ma’at; and African-centered principles, ethics, and values. These presentations inspired robust dialogue from the EWTAP conference attendees.
At the Ma’at site, the attendees were community-based organisations, NGOs and NPOs that are in partnership with Ma’at in their service rendered to the community. The highlight was the handover of Christmas toys to a rural children’s home and a creche that was affected by the KZN floods. This toy drive was an initiative of the Community Engagement Office in the School of Applied Human Science. They were donated by the School staff.
The conference brought many lessons and opportunities, particularly for the interns at Ma’at. They were involved in the planning and leading of all sessions. They also developed and sharpened their leadership, conferencing, information and technology, organising, and marketing and communication skills. Ma’at is grateful to the HPEDC, NRF, and the conference partners: MUT; DUT; CUT; Queens University, Canada; Msunduzi Municipality; eThekwini Municipality; Sausage Films; and Sinomlando Centre for Oral History.