NWU confers Africa's first PhD in African indigenous astronomy

Issued by North West University
North-West, Oct 31, 2019

For centuries, Africans have measured time, seasons and direction by the stars, and now the North-West University (NWU) has conferred the continent's first PhD in African indigenous astronomy on Dr Motheo Koitsiwe.

He received his degree on 17 October at the campus in Mahikeng.

In his study, Dr Koitsiwe followed a case study approach in investigating African indigenous astronomy of the Batswana in Botswana and South Africa.

The study revealed that the Batswana use their indigenous knowledge of celestial bodies for agriculture, reproductive health, navigation, time calculation, calendar making, rainmaking and thanksgiving ceremonies, and for natural disaster management.

Traditional songs, poems and indigenous games are also used as vehicles to transmit knowledge of celestial bodies to younger members of the community to preserve it for posterity.

Dr Koitsiwe developed his passion for indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) research, and especially for indigenous astronomy, early in his academic career.

"This passion was ignited by my late grandmother, Mmamodiagane Tladinyane, when she narrated stories, poems, riddles, songs of African night skies and cosmologies around the fireplace," he says.

He says he is honoured to have completed his PhD in IKS in the same year President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the IKS Act.

"The NWU's campus in Mahikeng is the pioneer of IKS in South Africa and started with teaching, learning and research in IKS in 2001.

"It is the first higher institution of learning in the country to have a registered teaching, learning and research programme in IKS, accredited by the South African Qualification Authority (SAQA)," he adds.

According to Prof Mogomme Masoga, who co-supervised Dr Koitsiwe's doctoral studies, his student's thesis has originality and novelty, which means this research is unique in astronomy.

Dr Koitsiwe, who also holds a BA degree in social sciences, as well as an honour's and a master's degree in IKS from the NWU, plans to translate his thesis into Setswana so that it not only reflects the aspirations of academia, but the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela and Batswana in general.