Clearing a Path to Academia

A Tribute to Lungisile Ntsebeza

Lungisile Ntsebeza’s commitment to his chosen path of intellectual enquiry came at a turning point in his life, while he was facing trial in Umtata (now Mthatha) on charges under the Suppression of Communism Act in 1977.


Many obstacles were put in the way of this commitment in the years that followed: imprisonment; then banishment to his home town of Cala; the murder of his cousin-brother Batandwa Ndondo by an apartheid death squad, followed by extended cover-up of the murder, including Lungisile’s detention without trial and further banishment to a remote area, cutting him off from the outside world; obstruction and hostility from the humanitarian agency meant to support victims of apartheid repression; then a return to the conventional banishment of before, now driven by the anger of a dictatorial president, and seemingly extended into the indefinite future.


By the time Lungisile was able to become part of collective academic life, ten years had passed since his initial commitment to this path in life... READ MORE

Stellenbosse Taalbeleid

Die Oortjies van die Seekoei

Waarna ons ookal kyk, sien ons met die eerste oogopslag gewoonlik minder as die hele prentjie. Die oortjies van die seekoei lyk vir ons soos net nog ‘n deel van die riviertoneel. Maar as die seekoei eers uit die water klim, is dit ‘n ander saak


Met enige beskouing oor taalbeleid in Suid-Afrika vandag, is dit soos wanneer ons die oortjies van die seekoei sien: Dit is belangrik om vroegtydig so volledig moontlik ‘n beeld van die situasie te vorm, insluitende dit wat nie eksplisiet gemaak word nie. As jy met ‘n gedeeltelike beeld probeer klaarkom, sal jy onkant gevang word.Met taalbeleid, sal jy dit moeilik vind om te verstaan waarom mense met soveel mag en aansien—kanseliers en vise-kanseliers, raadslede en professore, mense wat jy vertrou het—sonder blik of bloos hulle ondernemings kan verbreek of verdraai of vergeet.


Die groter prentjie wat nodig is om die ontwikkeling van Stellenbosse taalbeleid te begryp... READ MORE

Degenaar Part Four: What Remains?

Johan Degenaar died on 22 July 2015, at the age of eighty-nine. He had withdrawn from public life a decade or more before. This withdrawal was probably not a conscious decision on his part, but the result of his increasing frailty and deteriorating eyesight, and the increasing frailty of his wife Jetty, to whom he was devoted.


Degenaar continued to publish academic and popular articles regularly until 2000, engaging vigorously with a range of contemporary issues. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Stellenbosch University In 2002. He took part in a biographical interview with Pieter Duvenage in 2005. In what may have been his final public contribution in his own voice, he did a short interview with Anton van Niekerk in 2006, looking back on his career on the occasion of his eightieth birthday.


In 2007, the Degenaars moved from their house in Stellenbosch, where they had lived for more than fifty years, to a retirement village in Somerset West, the town where their children and grandchildren lived... READ MORE

Degenaar Part Three: The Art of Dialogue

From the beginning of his academic career, and probably even before that, Degenaar was committed to dialogue. What drew him to philosophy, and away from theology, was the figure of Socrates and the practice of Socratic dialogue. Dialogue was thwarted at times, but not his commitment to it. His unsettling prayers, in the first years of his appointment, may have seemed to his students to be provoking God; but it’s just as likely he was seeking a response from pious, but anxious, admissante.


This commitment to dialogue set Degenaar apart as a teacher. His lectures were not intended to provide a one-way transmission of established knowledge. He was seeking to invite, stimulate or provoke some kind of response and then to engage with that response.


Just as he was in dialogue with his students when his prayers in the classroom provoked them, he was in dialogue with readers of the Herdenkingsblad in his essay on a theology of dance... READ MORE

Degenaar Part Two: Challenged To Conform

In the early years of his appointment as a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Stellenbosch, Johan Degenaar was by all accounts conspicuously challenging established conventions. He was doing so not through open confrontation, but rather through wit, suggestion and questioning, and it must have been hard for the establishment of the time to know whether to call him to order, and how to do that.


I believe, however, that there was at least one moment during the early years of Degenaar’s academic career, when he was more or less explicitly challenged to move in one direction or the other: either to conform in a more definite way to dominant norms and beliefs, or to openly refuse to conform and suffer the consequences. There may have been other such moments, but the one I have in mind is both vivid and well-documented. This moment provides a view of Degenaar, at a crucial moment of his formation, that is sharply focused, although also partly obscured, in ways I’ll describe.


The event I have in mind took place in 1954, when Degenaar was invited to contribute a short essay to a... READ MORE