In his essay 1987 entitled: “Rediscovery of the Ordinary: Some New Writings in South Africa”, the South African Literary Scholar and Public Intellectual Njabulo Ndebele calls on black writers to write about ordinary lives as lived experiences in South African Townships and Suburbs if they are to distil profound insights about the South African condition. Conceding that the obscenity of the apartheid system often justified the prominence of the spectacular in political writing akin to the wrestler as theorized by Roland Barthes, Ndebele notes that such writing lacks the punch of the ordinary. While Ndebele’s argument comes out of a particular spatial and temporal context and is particularly anchored in literary and cultural studies, his thesis that the profound can be theorised from the ordinary is an innovative way of conceptualising knowledge production in the Humanities and Social Sciences. That scholars in the Humanities and Social Sciences are capable of distilling important insights into the socio-political and economic reality of particular milieu out of the ordinary experiences is not only the core essence of the decolonising project at different epochs in the continent’s intellectual trajectory, but it has been noted by many scholars and public intellectuals as an innovative platform for collective approaches to knowledge production.
This is particularly significant given the complexity surrounding African epistemology in the postcolonial moment. Cognisant of Ekeh’s double publics, Grace Musila’s epistemic disarticulation and Bhekizizwe Peterson’s multiple imagined readers — theoretical assumptions that underscore a double locale for knowledge production on the continent — the Humanities and Social Sciences Scholars congregated by the 2020 CHUSS Symposium seeks to investigate how and with what successes the academy can centre the untapped node of knowledge that exists on the periphery of the Ivory Tower — here framed as “Jua Kali” wisdom. By bringing the Ivory Tower into a conversation with Jua Kali, the meeting will enact a platform to interrogate the benefits of bringing these seeming parallel affiliations of knowledge production in sync. It will ponder how the double publics (Eke), multiple imagined audiences (Peterson) and the inevitable epistemic disarticulations (Musila) can be reconfigured to innovatively open space to debate the lived reality of the majority of the continent’s inhabitants. Undergirded by Musila’s argument that a reliance on a one-dimensional knowledge registers produce blind spots and opacity that not only disenfranchise, but also results into inaccurate and disarticulate conclusions of the African condition by all Humanities and Social Sciences disciplines, the scholars will reflect on how the ordinary can counter the said blind spots, opacities and epistemic deceits that colour our insights of the African condition to enact fulfilling intellectual conversations.