Thembelani (Themba) Mbatha is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of English and a South African postcolonial literary scholar concerned with questions of witnessing and mourning in African and Afro-diasporic literature. Tracing the often-uneasy relationship between African and black literary practices and colonial histories and memories, his work privileges lesser-explored African tragedies to imagine a praxis and ethics of what he calls “belated witnessing.” In his ongoing dissertation, provisionally entitled To Witness the Unmourned: Black Bodies and the Forgotten Traumas of 20th century Southern Africa, Themba is developing a poetics of witnessing premised on African imaginaries and epistemes by focusing on the crises in witnessing and mourning precipitated by the early 20th-century Nama and Herero Genocide and the SS Mendi shipwreck of 1917.
Prior to joining Princeton’s department of English, Themba was the inaugural researcher for the Atlantic Fellow for Racial Equity program at the Nelson Mandela Foundation. He earned his undergraduate degree in English and Philosophy at the University of the Witwatersrand and his BA (Hons.) and MA degrees in English Literature (both awarded with distinction) from the University of Cape Town. During his education in South Africa, he taught undergraduate-level classes in English literary studies and Philosophy and, at Princeton University, has taught classes on 19th-Century fiction and the modern novel. He has been a recipient of numerous awards, including the President’s and the 2022 – 2023 PIIRS Graduate Fellowships at Princeton University.
At Princeton University, Themba has worked with the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies on their summer Global Seminar led by Professor Simon Gikandi. He also served for three years as a Grad Co-ordinator with the McGraw Center’s undergraduate tutoring program and, in 2020 and 2021, was a Peer Mentor with the Graduate School’s Grad Scholar Program. When not working on his dissertation, Themba can be found either on a run in NYC’s Parks, out on a hike, or enjoying a match of tennis or soccer.