Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Professor explores South African identity
By Rebecca Wyatt Thomas, OU Web Writer
Political Science Professor Vincent Khapoya has studied South Africa his entire life. This semester, he is returning to South Africa and will spend his sabbatical researching, teaching and developing relations with the University of the Western Cape for possible student and faculty exchanges in the future.
Khapoya departs Jan. 20 for Cape Town, South Africa where he will serve as a visiting professor of political studies at the University of the Western Cape. He will teach a seven-week seminar to final year students on African genocide in world politics, a course he has taught at Oakland in the past, with slight modifications to focus more on the United Nations and the international community rather than just the United States.
After the seminar is completed, Khapoya will conduct research with the Center on Citizenship and Political Identity. His research project, “Politics of Reconciliation and Identity: The ‘Coloureds’ of South Africa,” will explore the designation of the term “coloured,” which in South Africa meant people of black and white ancestry, and the political implications of it in the new, post-apartheid South Africa.
“The designation was given by white people and it stood for oppression,” said Khapoya. “There is a debate going on right now about what that designation means to the Coloured people.”
Khapoya said political identities in South Africa appear to be based primarily on skin color whereas those of the rest of Africa are based on ‘tribes.’ He plans to explore this dimension of political identities.
The research is part of a book he’s planning to write before he retires.
Khapoya has been researching Africa for most of his life. As a college professor, Khapoya is highly regarded in his hometown in western Kenya. Because of his expertise, Khapoya agreed to co-lead, with Dena Scher, a professor at Marygrove College, a study tour of South Africa that will begin in Johannesburg and end in Cape Town. Those participating in the tour are students and alumni from Oakland University and Marygrove College. Khapoya will show the visitors the sites for two weeks beginning May 2.
From there he will spend some time with family in Kenya before arriving back in the United States on June 7.
“The hope for the sabbatical is that an arrangement will come out of it between Oakland University and the University of the Western Cape that will lead to a frequent exchange involving faculty and students in the future,” said Khapoya.
Khapoya said the two universities compare in size and the population of South African provides such a diverse environment for students to learn in.
“It is really a great place to study,” said Khapoya.
Look for notes from Khapoya in “Letters from South Africa,” a reoccurring series on The News @ OU. The notes will include updates from his journey, issues and information about how the country has changed since he was there last in 2002.