Written by Joanna Hughes

Completing a PhD is a monumental feat in and of itself. Now imagine being the first person in your university’s century-old history to write your dissertation in one of your country’s official languages -- not to mention your own mother tongue. This is exactly what PhD student Nompumelelo Kapa accomplished last month in South Africa when she wrote her thesis in isiXhosa. Here’s a closer look at her story, as reported by News24.

A First-of-Its-Kind

Kapa, an East London high school isiXhosa teacher, received her PhD in literature and philosophy from South Africa’s University of Fort Hare. In doing so, she became the first student in the institution’s 102-year history to write her thesis in isiXhosa, the Bantu language of South Africa’s second-largest cultural group, the Xhosa. (If you’ve seen the movie Black Panther, this melodic tongue may be familiar to you: It is the on-screen spoken language of the fictional country of Wakanda.)

Her PhD supervisor, Professor Nomsa Satyo, said of Kapa’s achievement, “It is the first of its kind.”

“I feel very proud that I am the first one to make history at Fort Hare to write in isiXhosa. It is indeed a beautiful experience,” Kapa told Sowetan.

Reclaiming their Roots

Kapa followed in the example of Hleze Kunju, who last April became Rhodes University’s first PhD student to write a thesis in the language, which was heralded as a “milestone.” 

Kapa hopes that other PhDs will follow suit, lamenting, “people finding it fashionable to write and speak in other languages, especially English, and in the process losing their identity and roots and endangering our heritage.”

“We are talking about transforming and decolonizing Africa, so isiXhosa should be considered and we also want to produce more isiXhosa writers, journalists, translators and others,” Kapa continued.


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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