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Jana Frey | 26.07.2018 | 431 Aufrufe | Interviews

Serah Kasembeli: The Ghost of Memory: Literary Representations of Slavery in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Lisa Maskell Fellowships at Stellenbosch University, South Africa

In 2014, the Gerda Henkel Foundation initiated a scholarship programme supporting young humanities scholars from Africa and Southeast Asia in honour of the foundation's founder, Lisa Maskell. It is the largest international support programme for PhD students in the history of the Foundation. The Lisa Maskell Fellowships aim to strengthen universities in the partner countries, to counter the outflow of qualified young scholars and to ensure the doctoral students enjoy excellent academic training.

In the following months, L.I.S.A. will publish interviews with the Lisa Maskell Fellows from Stellenbosch University in South Africa, in which they will talk about their research projects as well as their experiences during their academic career and the Lisa Maskell fellowship.

This week, we welcome Serah Kasembeli from Kenya. After graduating from the University of Nairobi, she started her PhD in English with the thesis The ghost of memory: Literary representations of slavery across Indian Ocean Africa at Stellenbosch University in 2015 and she successfully graduated from the program in March 2018.

Serah Kasembeli from Kenya

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L.I.S.A.: What is the status of the humanities in Kenya, your home country?

Serah Kasembeli: There is an active interest in the humanities. The universities host various faculties and departments in the humanities

L.I.S.A.: Have you ever encountered problems in the realization of your academic career?

Serah Kasembeli: There were always financial challenges. I could not attend the school with better facilities because of the lack of money to pay for the school fees. I was awarded a government loan which I am still paying back today. Libraries, resources and books were insufficient and I had to work with what was available.

"Continued engagement with colonial history"

L.I.S.A.: What is your PhD project about and what got you interested in the chosen topic to begin with?

Serah Kasembeli: My PhD research “The Ghost of Memory: Literary Representations of Slavery in Post-Apartheid South Africa” is interested in trauma, memory, erasure and the invisibility of oppressive violent pasts. I explore the lasting social and psychic effects of traumatic and repressed slave histories in the ghostly presence of a slave past in the post-apartheid present by framing my literary analysis with the concepts of cultural haunting, collective memory and re-memory. My conceptualisation of haunting is centred on the idea of slavery as a ghost that haunts the present moment.

My interest in African American slavery and the transgenerational effects it had intrigued my curiosity to pursue research that explored trauma and memory. The challenge was that African American slavery was quite distant from my context. I was glad when a colleague directed me to the novel Unconfessed by Yvette Christianse. The novel was an opening for me to delve into research on colonization, slavery as avenues to study trauma, silence, and memory. The research resonates with historical injustices in my society and speaks to the need for continued engagement with colonial history.

L.I.S.A.: What has your experience at Stellenbosch been like? Have there been any differences to the University of Nairobi and possibly other institutions you have previously attended?

Serah Kasembeli: Stellenbosch provided expansive research database, and its library was very useful. I could not compare it to my home University. Stellenbosch University also had active academic forums. The English department at Stellenbosch was particularly a place of academic networks and research.

L.I.S.A.: What are the opportunities in Kenya to pursue different degree options (BA/MA/PhD)?

Serah Kasembeli: There were opportunities but funding one self is a challenge.

"Support the young people"

L.I.S.A.: What are your plans concerning your future career once you have obtained your PhD?

Serah Kasembeli: My focus now is to publish the book monograph. I am still keen on research, I have been working on journal articles. Five are with the publishers. Currently applying for postdocs and lecturing jobs.

I was involved in community projects before starting the PhD, I hope to get back to the mentorship project I started and use my knowledge and experience to support the young people I mentor in Kenya to work towards their dreams.

I am keen on two long term community projects, one with the local archive and another with a community primary school.

Serah Kasembeli has answered the questions in written form.

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