“I'm hoping that the Ubuntu Dialogues programme will ignite a different conversation, where people can think outside of the box about the ideas of Ubuntu. I hope the students and young scholars will start to go outside themselves, go into their uncomfortable zone and create something new. I would like to see students start having serious debates in order to build something new. We also hope that this three-year project will create a book that gives a different perspective of what Ubuntu is in the everyday."
This is the vision of the newly-appointed Programme Manager of the Ubuntu Dialogues project, Dr Mosa Phadi, who took up her new position at the beginning of June.
Earlier this year, Stellenbosch University (SU) made history with Michigan State University (MSU) when the two institutions 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.
Dr Phadi was appointed to help achieve the vision of both SU and MSU over the next three years. Her role will be to frame what the Ubuntu Dialogues project will look like, conceptualise it and then try to operationalise it.
“The aim is to move away from the conventional ideas of what Ubuntu is and try to actually rethink in a more radical form of what Ubuntu is. We would like to integrate it into different discussions, especially at this time and look at how has it worked, what are the contradictions and how do we think about it in this era, twenty five years after democracy. We also want to look at Ubuntu in a global context, because of our partnership with Michigan State University," says Dr Phadi.
There are two main phases within the framework of the Ubuntu Dialogues project. The first is the graduate fellowship. The fellowship invites both Stellenbosch and Michigan State University students to apply, where they will participate in digital dialogues. Ten students will be selected every year from both universities for the fellowship and will participate in an internship programme in the USA and in South Africa.
The second phase is a seminar programme, which will have about eight seminars between SU and MSU. Young scholars and heritage professionals will have to apply by sending in their abstracts to motivate how their work fits into the Ubuntu Dialogue framework. It will be interdisciplinary, so anyone from any faculty can apply for the programme. Stellenbosch scholars and heritage professionals from partner institutions will present their work at MSU and MSU students will present their work at SU over the three years.
“It's an opportunity for young scholars from both universities to partake in the fellowship. We want young scholars to gain exposure to presenting at international levels and engage with others who don't necessarily have the same ideas from where they come from," says Dr Phadi
Dr Phadi completed her PhD in Sociology at the University of Johannesburg and her PhD research looked at what it means to be black in a post-apartheid South Africa. Before being appointed at SU she was working at the Public Affairs Research Institute in Johannesburg, where she specifically did research on topics on rethinking local government, the role of the institution and the politics behind it.
She hopes to leverage her previous research experience and drive the Ubuntu Dialogues project into an opportunity to rethink and come up with new ideas regarding Ubuntu.
Photo by Stefan Els.