31 August 2021

The UMP lecturer found that the colourful Ndebele art made famous by women such as Esther Mahlangu uses symmetrical geometry in their artefacts. They are responsible for cultural expression and construct artefacts using ethno mathematics, which is a relationship between culture and mathematics.

“In African societies there are mathematical ideas and concepts that have cultural purposes. Within the Ndebele society, beadwork and mural art reflect symmetrical geometry,” she says.

Bhuda’s study counters the belief that Africa was in the Stone Age before colonization and that in our early civilization mathematics and science were alive and well. She feels it is time for African people to document their own knowledge and correct the misinterpretation of African history.

To conduct the study, Bhuda used African indigenous philosophies to underpin and enable her to use an indigenous lens and understand the indigenous knowledge of the Ndebele people. Different methods were used to collect data to capture the knowledge of Ndebele people, depending on the research interest.

“Currently, my study focuses on Ndebele mathematics and its origin. As a Southern Ndebele born woman, researching about people gives me hope for the future. I understand that it is my duty to document this knowledge and share it with the younger generation,” she says.

Bhuda says her research acknowledges the contribution of African women in culture expression, preservation, promotion and dissemination. The research acknowledges that women are gatekeepers of most culture expressions and they are responsible to share knowledge from one generation to the next.


Women leading the way

Ndebele beadwork and mural art are constructed using symmetrical geometry and Ndebele women understand mathematics. Bhuda found that this knowledge has a historic and cosmic origin, which are things that have been ignored or misinterpreted in the past. 

“The mathematical knowledge existed before even the 16th century but was not formally documented, according to oral information. After these discoveries, I was interested to know more about the role of women in other African nations and why such tasks are given to them as the main gatekeepers.”

African people have contributed to modern science and technology known today. For instance, the Ifa divination from Nigeria uses the Binary System, which is found in modern computers.

“This shows that African people have early history of civilization, which was not recorded by them. This knowledge needs to be implemented in schools and children need to have a curriculum that integrates their indigenous knowledge so that they can relate it to their cultural background.”

In addition to her research, the Culture and Heritage lecturer recently published her first children’s book earlier this year. With a very keen interest in the Ndebele, the book: Kwekwezi’s Cultural Mural Art (English) and Umgwalo Wobukghwari baka Kwekwezi (IsiNdebele) came about when she was doing her PhD research on Ndebele mathematics.

@ Story by Lisa Thabethe. Pictures Supplied.