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The Durban University of Technology’s (DUT’s) Writing Centre recently hosted the Decolonisation of Writing Centre Spaces Webinar on Microsoft Teams.

Giving the opening remarks was DUT’s Writing Centre’sDr Nereshnee Govender who thanked all the attendees for making time to be part of the webinar and to share in this important conversation on Decolonisation in Higher Education.

The welcome address was given by Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning, Professor Nokuthula Sibiya.

“Owing to the inequalities and the lack of transformation in South African universities after the end of the Apartheid era in 1994, students and staff demanded the decolonisation of the curriculum. However, the meaning of decolonisation within this context has yet to be agreed upon, especially because there are similar discordant voices advocating different pathways for the decolonisation projects. The DUT Writing Centre plans to contribute to the decolonisation debate,” said Prof Sibiya.

Prof Sibiya extended her sincere appreciation to Prof Gift Mheta, Writing Centre Manager at DUT, based at the Steve Biko Writing Centre and his team for hosting this webinar to discuss the decolonisation of curriculum of Writing Centre spaces which talks to the DUT’s strategy known as ENVISION2030.

“This webinar forms an integral part of the stewardship and systems and processes perspectives of ENVISION2030 by seeking to add to the debate by discussing what decolonisation might mean to the Writing Centre practitioners and Writing Centre users. It will also explore the importance of decolonisation and how this process can be taken forward at our respective Writing Centres,” she said.

Addressing the webinar on the decolonisation of Writing Centre spaces was Prof Mheta, with his presentation titled: Towards Decolonised Writing Centre Spaces: The Reflections-For-Action of a DUT Writing Centre Practitioner.

Prof Mheta’s research is mainly focused on corpus development and maintenance, computational lexicography and language technology applications for the development of African languages. His other research interests are sociolinguistics, lexicography, translation and African literature. Of late he has developed an interest in communication studies and academic literacies. One of his recent publications is a textbook titled, Language, Society and Communication: An Introduction (2nd Edition). He has also published twenty articles including a co-authored article titled, Decolonisation of the curriculum: A case study of the Durban University of Technology in South Africa

Prof Mheta outlined his presentation which focused on questions pertaining to what is one’s understanding of decolonisation, to what extent is Writing Centre’s decolonised, and how can a Writing Centre be decolonised? He looked at the methodological considerations towards a shared understanding of decolonisation, reflections on the extent to which the DUT Writing Centre is decolonised and working towards decolonised Writing Centre spaces.

He also relayed that the methodological considerations which looked at six focus group discussions (six Writing Centres, 42 tutors), e-mail responses from four Writing Centre practitioners and four lecturers, as well as document analysis.

Prof Mheta focused on the broad definitions towards a shared understanding of decolonisation. He then gave insight into the DUT Writing Centre tutors’ understanding of decolonisation in general, and gave feedback on some of the responses included such as it is the process of revealing and dismantling colonialist power in all its forms.

He conveyed that the DUT Writing Centre is decolonised because the tutor does not write for the learner, but through his or her writing experience, advises the learners on how best they can improve their writing.

“Emphasis is on the writer and not the writing,” he stressed.

Prof Mheta explained what the DUT Writing Centre can do to carry forward the decolonisation process. He said that some of the responses from tutors, Writing Centre practitioners and lecturers were that the DUT Writing Centre can decolonise by modelling, through interactions between management and tutors and tutors and students, the acceptance of all viewpoints, even where there is disagreement, and through the challenging of archaic ideas which hold people back with discrimination based on culture, religion, race, language, gender, age and ability. 

By meeting with other centres so that they share their experiences and knowledge; making more African literature available for students. Changing the term tutor. Rather the use of a consultant is more ideal, as it provides the idea that one works hand-in-hand with the writer and provides options in the writing process rather than dictating what must be done. The process must be one that empowers,” he said.

Prof Mheta indicated the DUT Writing Centre practice and the language debate, saying that Multilingualism has to be encouraged in Writing Centre practice as it boosts concept learning. He highlighted some of the ways Writing Centre practitioners can begin to view different languages as meaning-making resources and not liabilities. He spoke on Multilingual classroom talk, switching between languages in exploratory talk, trans language and Cornell or split-page summary.

In conclusion, Prof Mheta added that while it is difficult to have a shared understanding of decolonisation, the invariant core is that it is about foregrounding African perspectives but not to the exclusion of other knowledge forms.

“The DUT Writing Centre has made tremendous strides in decolonising its spaces, but more can still be done. In as much as decolonisation was a protracted process, decolonisation is also a process that will take many years,” he said.

The second speaker at the event was Ms Puleng Sefalane-Nkohla, who has worked at CPUT for 22 years, only in the Writing Centre. She is currently working at (CPUT) as an Academic Literacy Lecturer with vast experience in leading and coordinating the Writing Centre at CPUT. Ms Sefalane-Nkohla is working as an acting Head of Department (HoD) at the Student Learning Unit of Fundani Centre for Higher Education and Development. Her interests are in student writing in higher education, second language writing, academic development of students and leadership in higher education.

Her presentation was titled: Being and Becoming: Decolonising the Writing Centre space. How do We Decolonize Students’ Academic Support at CPUT? Other presenters who presented with her included Lalia-Sue Duke and Frikkie George.

She explained to what extent have CPUT decolonised its practices and the institution plans to decolonise their students’ academic support

“CPUT is the product of a merger between Cape Technikon and the Peninsula Technikon. Prior to the merger, writing centres were operational in the two technikons. These Writing Centres were established in the mid-1990s to cater for the linguistic and psychological needs of the students in transition, especially for students whose first language is not English,” she said.

Nkohla further said that CPUT’s Writing Centre has grown over time to promote students’ academic and strategic literacies. “Develop students’ capacity, competencies, and skills through STEM (mathematics, physics, and chemistry) with an emphasis on student support. Develop pedagogical strategies to assist peer tutors and TAs in facilitating learning. Provide SMART administrative support and effective governance to the Student Learning Unit,” she said.

In conclusion, it was said that the goal of CPUT’s praxis is not only aimed at decolonising teaching and learning spaces at CPUT, but also to align with CPUT Vision 2030, specifically the objectives to create an embedded a suite of comprehensive and quality services for students that are integrated, responsive and focused on supporting students’ holistic well-being and academic success, and supported by smart technologies, and spaces which support a dynamic student community through the provision of high quality learning and social environments and experiences.

In a nutshell, we believe the Writing Centre has a crucial role to play in ensuring epistemic justice is achieved, sustained and deepened,” she said.

Adding to the conversation was Mr Ntuthuko Mhlongo,Writing Practitionerat the Mangosuthu University of Technology.

Mhlongo has a wealth of experience after having worked at DUT’s Writing Centre since 2018. At DUT, he learned about how to use a variety of evidence-informed approaches to help students learn how to write for their disciplines of study, as well as learn how to enjoy writing for academic purposes. His passion lies in developing young people’s abilities to deal with the realities of the changing global environment, which was the research focus for his master’s degree that investigated the opportunities and challenges for youth in the South African context. Currently, he is building work on his PhD studies interrogating the challenges youth face in rural South Africa as well as engaging on research on Writing Centres in the South African context.

His talk delved into Location and Power: Appraising the opportunities and challenges for Writing Centres as spaces for transformation and decolonization in the South African university context. He indicated that the context of South African universities endeavoring to be spaces that represent transformation and decolonalisation makes it necessary for all services within the university to participate in driving these goals.

“The fact that the concept of Writing Centres in South Africa is still relatively novice and burgeoning across institutes of higher learning, makes it important to have a deeper understanding of where it is most ideal to locate a Writing Centres,” he said.

The webinar concluded with a vote of thanks by Dr Nereshnee Govender.

Pictured: One of the speakers, DUT’s Prof Gift Mheta.

Pictured: Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning, Prof Nokuthula Sibiya. 

Waheeda Peters

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