Shadreck Chirikure

Shadreck Chirikure’s work serves to debunk the myth that there was no science and technology in Africa before colonialism. “Most knowledge is acquired in a Western way, but before then, what were Africans doing?” he asks. “How much do we know about the mining that was being done, about the spears that made Shaka Zulu so successful?” Chirikure found answers to some of these questions while studying for his master’s and PhD in Archaeology, looking at precolonial technology in indigenous mining and metalworking in Africa. His research revealed that not only were Southern Africans prospecting and mining to extract metals to use locally, they were also exporting the knowledge to China and to countries on the Indian Ocean. It’s knowledge worth spreading. But, one wonders, is anybody listening? If the number of international conferences he is invited to is any evidence, the answer is “yes”. Most importantly, he says, the government is putting money into indigenous knowledge systems such as those revealed by his research. At a practical level, Chirikure is working with communities in Limpopo to reproduce indigenous technologies to create objects for the tourism market. His expertise has been acknowledged in various ways, among them an invitation to study the rare gold coins found in the Oranjemund shipwreck discovered in Namibia in 2008 and to suggest methods of conserving them. Cambridge University Press has asked him to write a book on his research and he was awarded a Mandela Mellon Fellowship, enabling him to spend time at Harvard. He sits on the editorial boards of three journals and is a founding member of the South African Young Academy of Science. It’s hard to believe now, but Chirikure says he was once so shy he was afraid to look his lecturers in the eye. Thank goodness he decided to speak up; his work enables Africans all to hold their heads up higher. — Joonji Mdyogolo