2019 Graduation ceremony for the College of Humanities at UKZN Westville, 5 April 2019.

Distinguished Teachers’ Award for Dedicated “African” Academic

Not many people would leave a successful career as an attorney in the United States for a lecturing and research career in South Africa but for Distinguished Teachers’ Award recipient, Professor Fayth Ruffin, the academic calling was too loud to ignore.

‘Even though I was born in the US, I always knew from birth that I was an African,’ said Ruffin. ‘My ancestors motivated the career change, telling me to move beyond the practice of Law, earn a PhD in Global Affairs and thereafter return home to Africa and carry out their work as I also wanted to be in an environment where scholarship is required.’

Ruffin says the 1870 United States census shows her ancestors were professionals in the education and justice sectors shortly after slavery was outlawed in that country.

Ruffin is known for being passionate about teaching and learning and providing an enhanced and challenging teaching and learning experience for undergraduate and postgraduate students.

Her relentless drive and high performance earned her another feather in her cap last year when she was promoted to Associate Professor.

‘Any contributions that have resulted from me being me are on account of collaborations with students and their families, colleagues, professional services staff, executives, government officials, non-governmental organisation activists, industry representatives, ancestors, natural environment and all the forces of nature with which I work,’ said Ruffin.

As an academic at the School of Management IT and Governance’s Discipline of Public Governance, Ruffin is an expert in indigenous knowledge systems and public governance. She is constantly exploring and sharing the theoretical and experiential frameworks that demonstrate the dynamic interaction between indigenous knowledge systems, indigenous values and traditional governance and their role in modern society.

‘Although I have always had some awareness of indigenous knowledge systems all over the world, it was not until after my return to the African continent that the depth of AIKS resonated in my soul. My ancestors became so happy to be in an environment of “re-membering”, “re-creating”, and innovating. African epistemologies are empowering for everyone. After all, everyone is of African descent,’ said Ruffin.

Other areas close to Ruffin’s heart as a governance expert are decolonising and indigenising the curriculum to provide enlightening and emancipatory teaching and learning and research experiences for students. She finds ways to manifest this through community engagement and development, as well as law across the public, private and civil society sectors. Ruffin indicates that this will make it possible to create a fairer and more just society for all.

‘I find it so interesting, for example, that academia is so concerned about guarding against plagiarism but there is insufficient focus on crediting indigenous Africans for contributions to the global pool of knowledge across millennia,’ said Ruffin. ‘The dynamism of indigenous knowledge systems advances experientialism with 21st century problem-solving mechanisms at its core in a way that is at once global and local yet centred by spirituality,’ she added.

Words: Thandiwe Jumo
Photograph: Rogan Ward