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Call for Proposals: The Ubuntu Dialogues Graduate Fellowship

Stellenbosch University in South Africa and Michigan State University in the United States call for proposals for participation in a graduate fellowship programme funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation.


We invite faculty and postgraduate students from Stellenbosch University and Michigan State University to submit proposals outlining the contribution that they hope to make to the Ubuntu Dialogues.


The Ubuntu Dialogues project seeks to support, deepen and develop replicable frameworks for university museums in Africa and elsewhere and, through local and international dialogues, to collaborate in producing dynamic sites for the co-creation and dissemination of knowledge and practice. This three-year project is funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation.


Key aims and objectives of the Ubuntu Dialogues are as follows:


  • To build bridges between young people in South Africa and the United States
  • To transform institutions through collaborative scholarship of engagement
  • To transform the lives of young people through engaged learning
  • To bridge the divide between the North and South through digital communication




Central to the Ubuntu Dialogues project is the imperative to reimagine the nature and practices of dialogue itself, drawing on multiple philosophical traditions that go beyond Western perspectives or histories. It aims to do so through explorations of ubuntu, grounded in what Ramose (2002) identifies as a key aspect of the concept: the creation of 'undogmatic' knowledge.


Williams (1976) argues that certain words are 'significant, binding words in certain activities and their interpretation; they are significant, indicative words in certain forms of thought. Certain uses bound together certain ways of seeing culture and society'. The term 'ubuntu' within the South African context is such a word. This Nguni word is found in most African languages across sub-Saharan Africa and carries with it similar meanings of collective humanity and interdependence (Gade, 2012; Edozie, 2017). At different points in history, and with changes in the social and political spheres, however, the concept of ubuntu has been put to different uses and has come to take on various meanings.


During apartheid in South Africa, Gade argues, the term evoked a counter-narrative to the regime, advocating for 'inclusive ideas' against 'exclusive ideas'. Thus, the term became suffused with radical antagonism towards the oppressive state. With the birth of democracy, the concept was wedded to the project of nation-building as a means of dealing with the violent past and creating a united future. The term was cited as part of the founding ethos of the Interim Constitution, which advocated that liberation cannot occur through vengeance or retribution (Cornell & Berkowitz, 2014). When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 1996, ubuntu was invoked to emphasise the Commission's focus on forgiveness and reconciliation.


Today, however, South African democracy is experiencing sharpening contradictions. Many have declared the Rainbow Nation project to have run its course. The legacies of apartheid have yet to be addressed, and new forms of oppression have surfaced. Society has become more polarised. Can the concept of ubuntu still be employed meaningfully at the present juncture? Are we at the '[e]nd of Ubuntu', as Matolino and Kwindingwi (2013) have argued? Or, as Metz claims, is the ethical project of ubuntu more important than ever before?


Themes that will be explored further are as follows:


  • What is freedom in the current era?
  • What are the histories of ubuntu?
  • Which institutions and spaces have implemented ubuntu, especially in relation to museums?
  • What are the consequences of the different ideas about the nature of ubuntu in post-apartheid South Africa?
  • What is Pan-Africanism within a framework of ubuntu?
  • What are the alternatives to ubuntu?
  • How do Africans become the main authors of their intellectual thoughts?
  • How do we make African thoughts universal without becoming parochial?


The Ubuntu Dialogues project seeks to revisit, rethink and understand how ubuntu has shaped practices and institutions 25 years into democracy. The project aims to explore how the concept of ubuntu connects, both explicitly and implicitly, to the meanings that people give their experiences within individual and collective spaces.


The Ubuntu Dialogues will consist of the following:


  1. Ubuntu Student Conversations: Ten students (per annum) from Stellenbosch University and ten students (per annum) from Michigan State University will hold online dialogues. These will cover contemporary issues facing young people on opposite sides of the Atlantic.
  2. Ubuntu Graduate Fellowship: This exchange internship (service learning) programme will allow graduate students from Stellenbosch University and Michigan State University to spend time gaining practical experience by working in heritage institutions in the other country, particularly in museums.




  • Master's and/or doctoral students studying at Stellenbosch University and Michigan State University are eligible to apply for the programme. The fellowship is interdisciplinary, open to students from all fields in the social sciences, law, engineering, medicine and economics. We strongly encourage applicants from previously disadvantaged backgrounds to apply. Students who have never travelled outside South Africa or the USA are encouraged to apply.
  • Students should be registered at Stellenbosch University and Michigan State University for the year 2020 to qualify.
  • Students should submit a brief proposal of 500 words. It should highlight their understanding of ubuntu. Is the concept relevant to the contemporary moment or not? Are there alternatives to ubuntu?
  • Students should also submit a detailed CV.




All applications should be submitted to Natasha Coltman, e-mail address:, by 14 August 2019.