01 October 2021

Mona's love and passion for languages comes from having moved across different parts of South Africa and interacting with people from different backgrounds. “I embraced that people feel truly seen and heard when you speak to them in their own language. As a student, I had a lot of challenges with an education system that did not recognize me, but forced me to recognize other people, often those who had colonized us.

“Later in life, this prompted me to get involved with different groups and committees that sought to address some of these teaching and learning challenges. I entered academia as a reaction to some of my frustrations about the coloniality of education,” he continues.

Mona obtained his Master of Philosophy in African Studies, with the research component focusing on socio-cultural relevancy in university curricula. He is currently pursuing his PhD research in Education, with the focus on social justice in curriculum through decoloniality.

His research studies have mostly been centred on Higher Education. Mona shares more about his research journey and his love for languages.

You have done substantial research on languages; briefly tell us what some of these studies suggest.

"There is still a lot more research that I must do. But I have co-published with University of Cape Town Associate Professor Ellen Hurst-Harosh on: Translanguaging as Socially Just Pedagogy. In other words, for teaching to be socially just, students need to be allowed to bring in their linguistic capital in their learning processes.

I am also currently working with the same scholar on research about students’ language variations in written assessments – which means that students write from different linguistic positions, but the academic enterprise, instead of rewarding them, penalizes students for not fitting into Anglo-normativity in their writing.

By the way, other races do not get penalized in academia for not knowing their our languages, but this is different with Africans as they get penalized for not conforming to languages of those who oppressed them."

What are you currently working on? 

"In the arts I'm focusing on storytelling in indigenous languages; music and different forms of art. I’m putting together a show I can’t disclose about yet. In formal academia, I’m working on my PhD and other research in my area of social justice and decoloniality."

One of your research topics focused on languages and decolonisation, tell us about your findings. 

"We found that language is a critical factor of social justice and decolonisation, given that English, which is a norm in education, is only a first language to a minority of Africans, and to many of us English is second, third, and so forth.

Thus, a genuine correction of the marginalization of black learners in education has to address the language mess. From research, we then offered some ways of doing this, and we hope to continue to discover more possible ways."

What role do culture and heritage play in today’s society? 

"I would say that both concepts remain very relevant. In fact, a lot of solutions to human problems have been ruined by not accounting for the cultural dimension, and cultures that are accounted for are often those of the elite. In instances where there seems to be no cultural dimension, for example: medicine, economics, etc there actually is.

But the issue is that the cultural dimension that is mostly accommodated is Western-orientated. As a result, we assimilate. Heritage allows us to historicize, which we have to. The question is whose heritage gets prioritized and who gets to decide. Upholding a people’s heritage is one of the most empowering things for those people.

The question of heritage opens up questions of representations and recognition of our histories, and in social justice we take representation and recognition seriously. This is why we get angry when violent white men who stole from us and killed our ancestors get recognition and are represented in ‘our’ heritage’ as heroes, when we know little about boGogo nabo Mkhulu who sacrificed for us to be here.

By the way, heritage is not simply the wearing of ‘traditional’ clothes and eating ‘traditional’ foods. Heritage encapsulates a lot of historical elements that cumulated to who we are; how we are and what we have."

What are your thoughts on the decolonisation of education in South Africa?

"It is a necessity. Without decolonisation, we are subjected to live our lives on terms that are dictated from Europe. This happens at the expense of our being, our knowledge systems: our relationships with each other, with the environment, with our creator.

Without decolonisation, we are probably just working towards a destination that is reserved for boNgamla so we work and work to get there, but we do not arrive. An education system that is colonised, in many ways, teaches us to model our lives in relation to those who hated us."

@ Story by Cleopatra Makhaga. Picture Supplied.