Dear Pitzer College Community,

It is with profound sadness that I share with you that Professor Emeritus of Creative Studies Ntongela Masilela passed away last week after a yearlong battle with cancer.

Masilela’s impact extended well beyond Pitzer, as he was an internationally renowned South African intellectual historian and Marxist scholar. He was born in the township of Soweto in Johannesburg, South Africa and received his secondary education in Nairobi, Kenya. He was awarded a scholarship to study at UCLA where he earned his BA, MA and PhD degrees in sociology.

Following his studies at UCLA, Masilela held a prestigious research position in Los Angeles, then moved to Kenya to teach at the University of Nairobi. He then went on to further his studies at the Lódz Film School in Poland, followed by a period of time writing in the former Federal Republic of Germany.

In 1990 Masilela relocated to the US with his wife and two daughters and joined the Pitzer College faculty until his retirement in 2012.

Masilela taught literature and cinema studies at Pitzer, developed an interdisciplinary major and established a research center for the study of African intellectuals. His greatest scholarly contribution was his research into the intellectual history of 19th century Black South African writers, poets and scholars and the development of an unparalleled archive of their work.

He was a beloved teacher and mentor who encouraged students to make the most of their educational opportunities.

Kara Henner Eastman ’93 recalls, “Professor Masilela made an indelible impression on my life. I once asked how I could earn an A in the class. He told me to do things ‘three times better.’ He introduced me to James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and to myself as a writer. It is because of his pedagogy, mentorship and insistence that I spend most of my day and night reading, that I do indeed attempt to do things three times better.”

Masilela was a prolific writer. His most recent book in 2017, A South African Looks at the African Diaspora: Essays and Interviews, reflects on the meaning of, and relationship between, the concepts of home and exile. As an international scholar and a South African exile, he drew from both his own experiences and the research he conducted in archives on both sides of the Atlantic.

Pitzer professor Lako Tongun, a close friend and colleague said the following: “Before he retired from Pitzer and moved to Thailand, Ntongela was a colleague with whom I shared discussions about our exilic life experiences and gazes on the homeland. He would say, to me, ‘Africa needed a fundamental ideational transformation, namely a project that would recognize the power and the critical role of ideas, produced by “new’ African intellectuals.’ Ntongela’s life and scholarship were in a sense a fulfillment of his cosmopolitanism and modernist ideology.”

Masilela is survived by daughters Anna Vuyiswa and Nomaduma Rosa, their mother, Urszula; his wife, Wasana; brothers Aubrey and Temba, and their extended families in South Africa, Kenya, Poland and Thailand, as well as colleagues in South Africa, the US and around the world. I am attaching a tribute to him written by his daughters.

He was a treasured member of the Pitzer College community. We will miss him greatly.  I know you join me in extending our deepest sympathies to his family and friends during this difficult time.

Provida Futuri,

Melvin L. Oliver