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Zambian lecturer wins top research award, named after Zimbabwean activist

University of Zambia (UNZA) lecturer Sishuwa Sishuwa has been named the winner of the 2020 Terence Ranger Prize, awarded annually by the UK-based top ranked Journal of Southern African Studies (JSAS) for the best article by a first-time author in the journal during the previous year.

The prestigious academic honour is named after the late Terence Ranger, a distinguished scholar on History in Africa, leading political activist in Zimbabwe during the colonial rule, and long-time editor of JSAS who died in 2015, aged 85.

Dr Sishuwa becomes the first Zambian to win the award.

JSAS is an international publication for work of high academic quality on issues of interest and concern in the region of Southern Africa. In its 14th year, the prize is awarded for articles from any discipline.

Dr Sishuwa won the award for his 2019 article, “‘A White Man Will Never Be a Zambian’: Racialised Nationalism, the Rule of Law, and Competing Visions of Independent Zambia in the Case of Justice James Skinner, 1964–1969” published in JSAS volume 45 issue number 3.

Dr Sishuwa’s article considers the case of James Skinner, a white Zambian of Irish descent and head of the country’s judiciary, who in July 1969 was forced to resign after he supported the decision of a white High Court judge to acquit two white Portuguese soldiers who had illegally crossed into Zambia from Angola. The soldiers had earlier been found guilty by a black magistrate.

In the article, which can be read freely from the JSAS website, the UNZA academic demonstrates how the Skinner incident served as a touchstone for divergent intra-party visions of Zambia as an independent nation, visions that played out through racial and regional security considerations.

Slogans deployed during the campaign to oust Skinner, most notably ‘A white man will never be a Zambian’, shed light, he argues, on how the construction of Zambian political attitudes, national identity and citizenship became closely aligned with racial identities in the early years after the achievement of independence in 1964.

Praising Dr Sishuwa’s article, the judges commented that “’Racialised Nationalism, the Rule of Law, and Competing Visions of Independent Zambia in the Case of Justice James Skinner, 1964–1969’ is an exceptional article in terms of, among others, the ability to maintain coherence whilst not being afraid of probing for various levels of complexity in the material. It is also a huge contribution to our understanding of the complexity of the history of racial politics in Zambia and in Southern Africa in general.”

In his acceptance remarks, Dr Sishuwa said he was delighted to have the honour of receiving the Prize “named after a superstar historian who dedicated his academic life to the study of southern Africa”.

“And while it should not matter, I cannot help noting our shared past. Ranger studied history, as I did, and at the same place – Oxford. Additionally, Southern Africa was the field of his research activities, as it is for me. Most importantly, the award comes at a time of rising nationalism, and with identity and belonging at the forefront of leading conversations. The story of Ranger mirrors in some way that of the central subject of my article, James Skinner, an Irish-born lawyer who served as Chief Justice of newly independent Zambia in the 1960s. Both remind us that these discussions on race are not new”, he said.

“Ranger, like Skinner, was itinerant, leaving the United Kingdom for southern Africa in the 1950s. Unlike the itinerant who leaves little trace of themselves, he and Skinner forged strong ties and collaborative relationships in the places they settled. Both made themselves useful to the causes that catalysed that era – the struggle for independence and racial equality – risking the censure of the society they were expected to belong to whilst seeking legitimacy amongst the people whose cause they sought to join.

“They could be described as both insiders and outsiders to the society and social settings they found themselves in, at any particular time. This award, as does their example, challenges us to understand people within their peculiar individual circumstances and characteristics rather than treating them as representatives of particular identity groups. I am grateful to JSAS for the recognition and for organising the 2018 Early Career Writing Workshop in Malawi, where the wining article was presented”, Dr Sishuwa said.

Dr Sishuwa attended school in rural Western Province. He then won a government bursary that enabled him to study history at the University of Zambia where he graduated with distinction. He was then awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship by the Rhodes Trust to read for his master’s degree in African Studies at University of Oxford (St Antony’s College). He graduated in 2011 and his dissertation on opposition politics was awarded the African Studies Prize for the most outstanding dissertation research.

He completed his doctoral studies in Zambian politics and history in 2016, also at University of Oxford (St Cross). Dr Sishuwa was immediately appointed to a lectureship position at the University of Zambia, where he has been teaching for the last four years. Last year, the University of Cape Town awarded him a two-year Research Fellowship to study political parties and elections in southern Africa.

“From the first time I met him at Oxford, Sishuwa exuded a quiet authority. Since then, he has grown into a powerful thinker, a principled human being and a force for good in the world”, said Nic Cheeseman, Professor of Democracy at the University of Birmingham.

“When you get a student like Sishuwa to supervise, you don’t so much teach them as help them to find their own voice”, added Cheeseman, who is also a former Director of the African Studies Centre and Lecturer in African politics at the University of Oxford where he supervised Dr Sishuwa.

Dr Dorothy Mwansa, Head of the Department of History at UNZA, said she was not surprised by the award.

“I have seen Dr Sishuwa develop into an incisive thinker, unrivalled analyst, and passionate and prolific scholar. His recent writings not only question many long-standing interpretations of the country’s political history but also yield new insights into a wide range of topics. He is an exceptionally promising early career scholar and has made the Department of Historical and Archaeological Studies proud.”

Jeremy Seekings, Professor of Political Studies and Sociology at the University of Cape Town said Dr Sishuwa brings integrity and courage to his work.

“How wonderful that this Prize has been awarded to Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa. I myself have learnt so much from Sishuwa, his encyclopaedic knowledge of Zambian political history and his fine analytic mind.

“Terry Ranger would surely have been delighted that the prize in his name has been awarded to a young African scholar who not only grapples in his scholarly work with the important roles played by individual political leaders – buffeted, shaped and incentivized by their contexts – but also uses his scholarship to challenge these political leaders in well-informed and closely-argued contributions to public debate.

Sishuwa brings exemplary scholarship, integrity and courage to his work”, said Professor Seekings, who is also Director of the UCT Institute for Democracy, Citizenship, and Public Policy in Africa where Dr Sishuwa currently serves as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow.

-Lusaka Times



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