“This is a very historic occasion and I hope that twenty years down the line, when we look back we will really realise the significance of this agreement today."
This was the joyous words from Bongani Mgijima, Director of the Stellenbosch University Museum. Stellenbosch University (SU) made history yesterday (21 February) with Michigan State University (MSU), during an official ceremonial event, where members from MSU and SU signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that agreed to foster international cooperation in education, research and community engagement at both universities.
The agreement stemmed from a request by the two universities for Mellon Foundation support to deepen an existing initiative, the Ubuntu Dialogues project, over a three-year period; to develop replicable frameworks for university museums in Africa and elsewhere; and to collaborate in producing dynamic sites for the co-creation and dissemination of knowledge and practice through local and international dialogues.
According to Dr Leslie van Rooi, Senior Director: Social Impact and Transformation, the Andrew W Mellon Foundation grant is a significant one that links curricula at both institutions. “Given the substantial grant over a longer period, I hope that it secures the museums voice and position within a broader academic framework and allows academics to engage with our students on a different transformative learning experience."
The official agreement also had other historic significance since MSU and SU were on the opposite sides of the apartheid divide. In the 1970s MSU decided to disinvest from American companies doing business with South Africa. Before 1994, MSU took a conscious decision to work only with historically black universities in South Africa.
“Michigan State University in the 1970s wouldn't do business with South Africa, because of political reasons and before1994 it would still not work with universities like Stellenbosch for the very same reasons. This MOU agreement signifies a major turning point since both MSU and SU have undergone significant transformation. We are taking Ubuntu globally," says Mgijima.
The key aims and objectives of the Ubuntu Dialogues between MSU and SU are to build bridges between young people in South Africa and the USA, transform institutions through collaborative scholarship of engagement, transform the lives of young people through service learning, and bridge the digital divide between the North and the South.
On Wednesday (20 February), Prof Jamie Monson, Director of the African Studies Centre and Professor of History at Michigan State University, who was in attendance at the MOU signing event, kick started the Ubuntu Dialogues initiative and was the keynote speaker at the SU Museum Ubuntu Dialogues discussion.
She emphasised how remarkable the new partnership between MSU and SU was.
“We are very proud in terms of the impact and transformation and that the students that we recruit are named in the grant as coming from the underrepresented or historically underrepresented communities on both sides. We are transforming our university and hopefully transformation will occur here as well and we can learn from each other in a co-created project," said Monson.
The agreement between SU and MSU will help with the development of collaborative exhibitions and collections, exchange of professional staff, students and research, scholars, joint social impact projects between the two institutions, professional development and technical exchange and grant writing and fundraising for joint projects.
*For more information on the Ubuntu Dialogues contact Natasha Coltman at 021 808 3691 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the photo seated left to right: Prof J Monson (MSU), Prof W de Villiers (SU) and Prof N Koopman (SU). Standing from left to right: Ms L Hinds (MSU), Dr L van Rooi (SU), Ms N Coltman (SU), Prof K Dewhurst (MSU), Prof M Macdowell (MSU), Mr B Mgijima (SU), Mr U Wolff (SU) and Mr R Kotze (SU).