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Dr Hleze Kunju’s wrote his doctoral thesis in his mother tongue of isiXhosa thanks to the new Rhodes University language policy creating hope for education transformation.


Dr Hleze Kunju was inspired to complete his PhD in his home language after a chance meeting with Xhosa speaking students from Zimbabwe. Thanks to the new language policy at Rhodes University he was able to complete his studies in Xhosa.

The biggest reason this milestone is so important is because it puts Xhosa on par with English among others used in academic inquiry. Dr. Kunju struggled with English during his undergraduate studies.

“I’d write (in English) and think this is it.”

“But it would come back marked in red and they (lecturers) would ask what are you trying to say, and I eventually put it in a way that made sense to them.”

“I constantly felt I was lost in translation.”

Dr. Kunju said writing in his language was a beautiful experience. His thesis was inspired after meeting Xhosa speaking students in Zimbabwe while teaching music.

Part of the thesis focused on traditional circumcision after explaining to the Zimbabwean AmaXhosa that hundreds of South African boys have passed away in the mountains during the sacred rite of passage.

There is a plan to build a Xhosa-medium school in Zimbabwe, this is in partnership between the two governments. In the past the Zimbabwean region only had access to one form of Xhosa literature, which was the bible. Dr. Kunju hopes his study will help these communities.

“I wanted to show that isiXhosa can do what the English language and others can do.

“As a language activist, I always try to elevate isiXhosa, but many people think to elevate isiXhosa is to suppress everything else and we might be getting it wrong that way.

“We should be saying, look, this is what English can do and also what isiXhosa can do.”

Dr. Kunju was among seven other PhD graduates who conducted their thesis in African languages at the university. You can read the thesis here.

The doctoral thesis has been described as “a milestone” for Xhosa academic writing. It’s a glimmer of hope in the quest for a decolonised and transformed education system in South Africa.

Rhodes University

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About the Author

Tyler Leigh Vivier is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Her passion is to spread good news across South Africa with a big focus on environmental issues, animal welfare and social upliftment. Outside of Good Things Guy, she is an avid reader and lover of tea.

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