Obituary: CHIREVO VICTOR KWENDA, *1948-†16.10.2013

The African Association for the Study of Religion has learned with great sadness, the passing away on 16 October in Zimbabwe of Dr. Chirevo Victor Kwenda of the University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa. He was Lecturer (1994-1998) and Senior Lecturer (1998-2006) of African traditional religions in the Department of Religious Studies, Head of the Department from 2002 to 2004, and Associate Director of the Institute for Comparative Religion in Southern Africa at the University of Cape Town.

He was born in a chiefly family at Charter near Chivu in Zimbabwe in 1948. He held degrees from the University of South Africa and Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. He obtained his PhD at Syracuse University in 1993: True colors: A critical assessment of Victor Turner’s study of Ndembu religion. Syracuse: Syracuse University, 368 pp.

He argued in this dissertation that Victor Turnerʼs reduction of religion to an expression of beliefs prejudices the study of religion generally, and Ndembu religion in particular. He submitted that this definition of religion allows Turner to abstract Ndembu religion from its historical context and situation under colonial rule, to operate without a coherent theory of the sacred, and to pay no attention to the question of the meaning of world and of the human in the colonial situation. The purpose of this dissertation was to advance a critique of the work of Turner which grounds Ndembu religion in its colonial context, develops a perspective on Ndembu religion as a contact phenomenon, articulates a coherent theory of the sacred and of religious practice as they relate to Ndembu religion and its historical and socio-cultural context, and explores the meaning of world and of human in the political context of colonial Zambia. The significance of his thesis consists in the possibility it suggests of relocating and redefining the problem of religion, of sensing in the religion of contact some rudiments of a colonial discourse. The studies of Turner as well as those of his critics are characteristically cast in the Enlightenment mode of the Human Sciences which, as Charles Long has pointed out, hides and obscures, in the name of scientific objectivity, the ex¬perience and response of colonized cultures, ʻa mode whose adequacy has been undermined by five hundred years of Western domination of other parts of the worldʼ. His thesis was a conscious effort to transcend this foundational disability in the Human Sciences.

At Cape Town, Kwenda specialised in comparative religion, the indigenous religions of Africa and Christianity in Africa. His research focused on the search for an Africa-friendly theory of religion. and ancestral ethics in Southern Africa. Dr. Kwen-da is remembered at UCT as a brilliant teacher, inspiring supervisor, effective administrator, and valued friend. He was also a global presence, participating in conferences of the International Network for Interreligious and Intercultural Education in Utrecht, the International Association for the History of Religions in Mexico City, and the meetings on religion and globalization in Farmington, Maine, as well as holding a Mandela Fellowship at Harvard University during 2000-2001. In his publications and conference presentations, Chirevo Kwenda was the master of the revealing phrase: “pedagogy depends on spirals of learning”, “social cohesion depends on cultural justice”, “religion is giving and receiving”, “African traditional religion is deal-making”. THey condensed powerful insight and lingered in ongoing reflection and conversation. Chirevo Kwenda is remembered by his colleagues not only for his valuable scholarly contributions but also for being a wise, compassionate and inspiring human being.
His publcations include:
Chidester, David, Chirevo Kwenda, Judy Tobler & Darrel Wratten (eds.) 1997, African Traditional Religion in South Africa: An Annotated Bibliography. West¬point [Conn.]: Greenwood, 480 pp., ISBN 978-0-313-30474-3 (0-313-30474-2)
Chidester, David, Chirevo Kwenda, Judy Tobler & Darrel Wratten (eds.) 1997, Christianity in South Africa: An Annotated Bibliography. Westpoint [Conn.]: Green-wood, 504 pp. ISBN 978-0-313-30473-6 (0-313-30473-4)
Kwenda Victor Chirevo 2003, ʻCultural Justice: The Pathway to Reconciliation and Social Cohesionʼ, in David Chidester, Philip Dexter & Wilmot James (eds.) 2003, What Holds Us Together: Social Cohe¬sion in South Africa. Cape Town: HRSC Press, 67-80

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