Graduand WANDILE NGCAWENI believes the pomp and ceremony surrounding graduation ceremonies at South African universities isÂ steeped in colonialism. And heâ€™s having none of it.
I am graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Johannesburg in April. My graduation invitation advises on a strict dress code for the occasion as follows: graduates must wear “formalâ€ or “smart traditional”. I have spent a lot of time pondering whether I will dress in â€œformalâ€ or â€œsmart traditional”. Itâ€™s become a tedious deciding process. The problem is that I have not been able to define “smart traditional”. I have no idea why â€œtraditionalâ€ has to be preceded by â€œsmartâ€. I do not know if anyone’s traditional attire can be deemed “unsmart” for any occasion?
Anyway, I have since made a decision. I wish to present myself and assert my being very traditionally. I came to this decision when I deductively identified that the word “smart”, being written before “traditional” and not “formal”, meant there are some traditions that are deemed unsmart. I credit this as the opinion of colonialist settlers, thus it is a colonial sentiment to assume that African traditional clothes could be unsmart.
I refuse to wear a suit and tie at my graduation because this is foul coloniality in the form of clothing! I refuse to restrict myself to colonially crafted boundaries of self-presentation and expression.
All these assumed norms canâ€™t possibly stand at this decolonial juncture. Is it not enough that the graduate space will be filled with endless echoes of whiteness? Is it not enough that the degree I will be collecting was by design supposed to reproduce white intellectualism?
Well, my decision is to gear up with as much fine skins as I can. Ngizogqoka ibheshu (I will wear my cultural attire).Â I see this as a much-needed intervention and disruption of the slave celebrating ascendance to slavery norm. My intention is to enter the auditorium, disrupt, and startle coloniality wherever it lurks disguised. This way I will successfully reject colonial dress paternalism loudly.
This is also a sign of humility: by wearing traditional Zulu skins I will be rejecting the academic and societal hierarchy of celebrating being better than the next black human. I will show consideration to all the generations of people that sacrificed their lives to ensure someone like me gets a university education. I am no more human than they were, but in fact, I am human because of them. I am a combination of all indigenous African cultures.
The epistemic establishment is not the only thing that needs a challenge. I want to vindicate anyone that’s been told they are â€œbackwardâ€ or deemed â€œunsmart” by wearing traditional attire. I know the powers that be won’t dare to call me names but their souls will be fuming with anger and hate because I will be telling them they failed to reproduce their ways and thinking in the form of me.
The whole year we fight for decolonising spaces but then I wear a tie to assimilate? I must wear a suit and lace-up shoes – symbols of white assimilation (validation of my humanity from white norms) and I must also wear that overpriced gown and hood? No, sorry, my decolonial consciousness rejects!
Mina ngekeÂ (I will never).
Sizokhathala abelungu (I am getting tired of white people).Â
I will celebrate my achievement wearing Ibheshu lami engilithengelwe UbabaÂ (my cultural attire that my father bought for me)!
UJ spaces must ready themselves.
Wandile Ngcaweni is graduating with a BA (Development Studies and History) degree from the University of Johannesburg. He is a decolonial literature enthusiast and a registered student at the Thabo Mbeki Leadership Institute.