Chaired by Vice Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela, the launch of the new Unit of Zimbabwean Studies on 14 May was filled from corner to corner by both staff and students alike. The unit, highly anticipated, promises to produce academic research of good quality.
Established and formalised by Associate Professor Kirk Helliker, the unit is set in the Department of Sociology at Rhodes University and aims to publish a quarterly newsletter of ‘all things Zimbabwean’ aimed at South African audiences. In addition to this, a document introducing the unit added the following as being the goals Professor Helliker aims to achieve in the next few years with the post graduate students who decide to tackle the course:
- developing a diverse PhD and Masters student profile
- establishing and maintaining relations with academic institutions in Zimbabwe
- Organising conferences and workshops on Zimbabwe at Rhodes
- Initiating a seminar series which will boast presentations by post graduate students in the unit, and more, which is reassurance that the unit will do well on our campus.
Professor Helliker then welcomed the Vice Chancellor, who congratulated Professor Helliker, the department and the faculty of Humanities on their hard work in developing the unit.
“Zimbabwe and other countries played an incredible role for our own liberation struggle,” started Dr Mabizela. He further went on to say that it was necessary that a Unit of this calibre be established at the university as South Africans have not thanked them enough for the support they gave us during apartheid.
Both Dr Mabizela and Professor Helliker reiterated that the establishment of the unit would help many understand the contemporary issues which face Zimbabwe on a daily basis. “The Unit has the strong possibility of positioning Rhodes University as the premier university internationally (outside Zimbabwe) engaging in Zimbabwean research and studies within the Humanities and Social Sciences,” explained the document introducing the unit.
While the room was already filled with bubbly and cheerful people, the audience was treated to an intimate performance by well-known Zimbabwean Imbira musician, Hope Masike. The Imbira is a sacred Zimbabwean instrument. Masike’s performance was highly enjoyed by the audience, with the largely Zimbabwean audience singing along with Masike to a well-known Zimbabwean song.
As he is known for fighting xenophobia and discrimination in all its forms, the Vice Chancellor touched on the issue of the recent xenophobic attacks and expressed that the attacks were the “most horrible thing that people could ever engage in”. He ended off his speech by saying that he hoped that the development of this unit would show the “oneness of humanity” and that, “we need to build a winning continent and be very proud of it.”
The launch was rather quick and right at the end treated the audience to some Zimbabwean food; Sadza and meat and something that all who were homesick missed, some Chibuka which I would compare to the Xhosa “umqombothi”, which is traditional beer.