Prof leaves the Big Apple for Braamfontein

After an eight year stay in the United States, Professor Hlonipha Mokoena has finally decided to come back to South Africa and has chosen Wits University as her new academic home. 

BACK TO THE MOTHERLAND: After many years abroad educating and learning, Professor Hlonipha Mokoena will touch home in June. Photo: John Harris

BACK HOME: After many years abroad educating and learning, Professor Hlonipha Mokoena will make a permanent move to South Africa in June.                        Photo: John R. Harris

In June, the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) will welcome South African Professor Hlonipha Mokoena back home.

Mokoena, 38, originally from Soweto but left for KwaZulu-Natal at the age of 12 to go to boarding school, took on her first job as an associate professor in anthropology at the Columbia University in New York a few years after graduating with her PhD from UCT (University of Cape Town), in 2005.

Her move to Wiser comes after three years of planning and describing this new challenge, Mokoena said, “I mustn’t disappoint.”

Mokoena hopes to have the intellectual space and time in which to complete a new book. No stranger to publishing, she wrote her first book titled Magema Fuze: The Making of a Kholwa Intellectual in 2011.

“Mokoena now feels that she can quite soundly critique American notions of “knowledge”

After 8 years of teaching at Columbia University, Mokoena now feels that she can quite soundly critique American notions of “knowledge”, and she describes some of the innovative ways in which students are taught in the US as viable options in South Africa.

“I think in South Africa we tend to argue about eurocentrism as if [it’s] sort of widespread, whereas really the world currently is dominated by the American approach to creating knowledge, including African studies. It’s really American-centric,” Mokoena said.

Mokoena spoke to Wits Vuvuzela about the differences between universities in the States and those here at home, “American private universities [such as] Columbia University are very different from South African universities at the basic level of competition.”

According to Mokoena, there is a high degree of competition for staff and students to get into institutions like Columbia.