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Africa Symposium

AfricaThis fall, Pitzer College hosted an Africa Symposium that brought together leading figures in the social sciences, humanities and arts to address an eclectic array of issues concerning the African continent.

Charles Burnett, recognized as one of the finest living American film directors in the tradition of African American artists like Ralph Ellison, Paul Robeson, Muddy Waters and Sarah Vaughan, provided a screening and discussion of his newest fiction film “Nujoma: Where Others Wavered” (work-in-progress) about the national liberation struggle that led to the democratic elections and independence of Namibia. This two-hour epic was financed by the government of Namibia, which in effect makes it the first major Namibian film.

Jeff Opland, a leading scholar of Xhosa literature (one of the leading ethnic groups in South Africa of which Nelson Mandela was a member) made a presentation on his project to revive the literary legacy of Nontsizi Mgqwetho—a major female Xhosa poet who published about one hundred Xhosa poems in several newspapers in the 1920s and whose critical intellectual legacy had tragically disappeared from South African cultural history.

Driss Maghraoui, an internationally prominent historian of North Africa and Islam, examined the history of the sources and forms of, as well as the responses to, “secularism” in Morocco. Maghraoui’s important lesson was that “secularism” has never been a purely abstract principle. Instead, it has been linked to particular social forces and projects in particular historical contexts, and it has been received as such. More specifically, at key moments in North African history, “secularism” was made to serve as a symbol of European superiority—and concomitantly, rejections of this historically specific form of “secularism” must be recognized as rejections of Eurocentrism and racism, and not as a rejection of some ideal form of “secularism.”

The acclaimed Senegalese film-maker, Moussa Sene Absa, gave a screening of his feature film, “Madame Brouette” (2002), which focuses on the plight of poor Senegalese women. In subsequent presentations to a series of first-year seminars, Absa reinforced the themes of empowerment of women as a critical element of addressing socio, cultural and economic ills that confront sub-Saharan Africa.

The symposium was organized by committee members Assistant Dean of Faculty Michael Ballagh, Professor of English and World Literature Ntongela Masilela, Jean M. Pitzer Professor of Anthropology and Professor of Historical Studies Daniel Segal, and Program Coordinator of the Center for Intercultural and Language Education (CILE) and Director of International Exchanges Kebokile Dengu-Zvobgo.

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