African Feminisms (Afems) Conference is a yearly Humanities and Social Science African feminist conference hosted collaboratively by Rhodes University's Prof Lynda Gichanda Spencer (and her UCAPI research project), based at the Department of Literary Studies in English, and Prof Sharlene Khan (with her Art on our Mind research project), from the Wits University Fine Art Department.

The conference has taken place in 2017 and 2018 at Rhodes University in Makhanda and at Wits University in Johannesburg in 2019, is scheduled to take place at the University of Cape Town and online in 2021, and returns to Rhodes University for its fifth year anniversary in 2022.


Afems provides a yearly platform for  ideas and current research by Humanities and Social Science students and established scholars, creatives and activists, particularly highlighting Rhodes University’s Departments of Literary Studies in English and Wits University's Fine Arts collaborations around African feminist engagements in literature, popular culture, the visual arts, art history, performance and visual culture at large.

As such, Afems is:


  • an African feminist-centred space for dialogue and creative expression 

  • an intellectually engaging and social networking space

  • an arena in which the organisers take pride in being a local African feminists-of-colour-centric space of critical rigorous, supportive engagement and creativities, which seeks to highlight African feminist scholarship generated inside and outside the continent.


Afems puts out Calls for Presentations usually around mid-January each year on this platform and various social media and you are should send in an abstract of no more than 150-200 words to afemsconference@gmail.com by the closing date listed.

All individual presentations are limited to 20 minutes, all proposed panels to 1 and a half hours (scholars/creatives proposing panels/roundtable discussions must contact panel members themselves and present the abstract for the panel as well as the individual panelists/creatives when applying).

We then get back to by the date we say we will and let you know whether your abstract has been accepted to the conference. You then have to pay the registration fee online by the closing date in order to be placed onto the Afems programme, send us your updated abstract and bio and then attend Afems and have a great time with a wonderful community of people.

A few things to note:

  • if you are not planning to attend the conference, please do not submit an abstract for the sake of having your abstract accepted

  • we generally do not allow people to Zoom or Skype into the conference (unless forced by a once-in-a-century global pandemic) - part of the experience of Afems is being part of and interacting with the community, so virtual sessions do not add to Afems experiences and Afems does not strive to just being another conference on the conference circuit. Please also bear in mind that we often experience both problems with internet and electricity (loadshedding) in South Africa which would only add to both our stress as convenors and to that of our presenters if we tried to do virtual presentations.

  • if you are attending, we are always willing to consider alternative presentation formats, so do feel free to propose this in your abstract and give us as much detail as possible including technical requirements

  • while we would ideally not like to charge our community registration fees, we are forced to and keep these to a minimum - all of your fees go towards your meals and teas. All participants are required to pay registration fees - this includes each panelist, discussant, creative participant in exhibitions, performances, spoken word, music performances, book sales persons, outside assistants brought in by participants

  • school students, university scholars and activists can apply to Afems for a reduced registration fee or can barter services to Afems (please contact the Afems convenors)

  • if you cannot afford the registration fee but want to attend Afems panels to listen to the presentations and see the performances, you are welcome to do so as Afems maintains the position that knowledge should always be free and accessible. However, access to teas, lunch and supper is limited to registered conference attendees

  • unfortunately we are not able at present to provide any funding assistance with travel, accommodation or stipends

  • Afems is run entirely by a very small team of full-time academics, admin staff and students who give of their time and resources to make Afems possible because they believe in African and black feminist scholarship. They might take time to get back to you sometimes, but if you need to send them an extra mail on their work emails, please do if it's urgent. However, no amount of urgency warrants any kind of rudeness and none is generally tolerated


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Prof Lynda Gichanda Spencer (Associate Professor, Department of Literary Studies in English, Rhodes University)


Lynda Gichanda Spencer is an Associate Professor in the Department of Literary Studies in English at Rhodes University. She has also taught in the field of English and African Literary Studies at Stellenbosch University, the University of South Africa and Vista University. Her research interests include contemporary women’s popular writing, popular culture in Africa, African women’s writing, Eastern African fiction, African cultural studies and transnational literatures. She is the principal investigator of Urban Connections in African Popular Imaginaries (UCAPI) and editor of The Journal of Eastern African Cultural and Literary Studies. See: https://www.facebook.com/UCAPIRhodes/

Prof Sharlene Khan (Associate Professor, Department of Fine Art, Wits University)

Sharlene Khan is a South African visual artist and scholar. Khan works in a range of media which focus on the intersectionality of race, gender and class and the socio-political realities of a post-apartheid, post-colonial society. She uses masquerading as a decolonising strategy to interrogate her South African heritage, as well as the constructedness of identity via rote education, art discourses, historical narratives and popular culture. She has exhibited in various local and international exhibitions (most recently at the Thessaloniki Biennale), and has participated in a number of international visual artist workshops and residency programmes (Egypt, South Korea, India, France, Mauritius). She was recipient of the Rockefeller Bellagio Visual Arts residency in 2009, and went on to serve on the Rockefeller Bellagio International Arts and Literary Arts panel for six years thereafter. She is second prize winner of the German 2015 VKP Bremen Video art award, and has been twice nominated for the South African Women in Arts Award (Painting). She is a 2017 recipient of the American Learned Councils African Humanities Postdoctoral Award. She has presented academic articles and performances at numerous conferences internationally and has published articles in Manifesta, Springerin, Artlink, Artthrob, Art South Africa. She holds a PhD in Arts from Goldsmiths and is Associate Professor of Visual Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. She runs the  Art on our Mind research project; the Decolonial AestheSis Creative Lab; the biweekly Black Feminist Killjoy Reading Group and is co-convener of the African Feminisms (Afems) Conference. She is the editor and publisher of the artist books What I look like, What I feel like (2008); I Make Art (2017) and When the moon waxes red... Negotiating Subjective Terrain as an 'Inside-Outsider' (2019). See: http://artonourmind.org.za/ .

Dr Polo Moji (Senior Lecturer, Department of English Literary Studies,  University of Cape Town)
Polo B. Moji (University of Cape Town) is scholar of comparative literary and cultural studies with an interest in African and Afro-diasporic narratives in English and French, African Feminism and Critical Black Geographies She earned a PhD in General and Comparative Literature from the Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris III) in 2011. She has co-edited the special journal issues Ghostly Border-Crossings: Europe in Afrodiasporic Narratives” in Tydskrif vir letterkunde: A Journal for African Literature (2019), The Cinematic City: Desire, Form and the African Urban in The Journal of African Cinemas (2019) and Cinematic Imaginaries of the African City, Social Dynamics (2021). Her forthcoming book titled Gender and the Geopolitics of Blackness in Contemporary AfroFrench Narratives: Black Flâneuses.

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Kharnita Mohamed (Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, University of Cape Town)


Kharnita Mohamed is a black feminist scholar who lectures in Anthropology at the University of Cape Town. In her teaching, she is passionate about developing pedagogies that open epistemic horizons. In 2020, she received the UCT Humanities Faculty, Dean’s Teaching Award for her innovative curricula. Her research is focused on epistemology, debility, disability, race and gender towards thinking about disability and debility in and for the Global South. Her 2018 debut novel, Called to Song received the 2020 UCT Meritorious Book Award, was shortlisted for the 2020 National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences Fiction Award, and long listed for the 2019 Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize. Mostly, she wants to understand and explore how we can bring a world into being, where we can all live flourishing lives.


Dr Mandisa Haarhoff (Lecturer, Department of English Literary Studies, University of Cape Town)

Dr Mandisa Haarhoff is a lecturer in English and Literary Studies, University of Cape Town. She is a recipient of the National Research Fund’s Black Academic Advancement Programme for her book manuscript in progress, Kaffirland/Vaderland: Black Absenting and White Indigeneity in South African Farm Narratives.  The monograph analyzes racialized representations of presence and belonging through a reading of South African farm and cartographic narratives. It examines the ways in which farm novels participate in constructions of white indigeneity and enact black absenting throughout the late-colonial and apartheid period. Haarhoff’s research interests are concentrated around postcolonial theory, black studies and critical race theory. Her teaching centers on African and diasporic literatures.


Prof Nomusa Makhubu (Associate Professor, Art History and Visual Culture, Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town)

Nomusa Makhubu is an associate professor in Art History and deputy dean of transformation in Humanities at the University of Cape Town. She was the recipient of the ABSA L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Award in 2006 and the Prix du Studio National des Arts Contemporain, Le Fresnoy in 2014. She received the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) African Humanities Program fellowship award and was an African Studies Association (ASA) Presidential fellow in 2016. In 2017, she was also a UCT-Harvard Mandela fellow at the Hutchins Centre for African and African American Research, Harvard University. Recognising the need for mentorship and collaborative practice in socially responsive arts, she founded the Creative Knowledge Resources project. She co-edited a Third Text Special Issue: ‘The Art of Change’ (2013) and co-curated with Nkule Mabaso the international exhibition, Fantastic, in 2015 and The stronger we become in 2019 at the 58th Venice Biennale in Italy.

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Akai Swai (PhD Candidate, Department of English Literature Studies, University of Cape Town)

Aika Swai is a PhD candidate at UCT's Department of English Literary Studies. Her research revolves around the communicability of so-called magical or supernatural events, especially when African or American Indian authors rely on English to convey the real and inevitably come across as magical. Aika is also a fellow at the Institute for Creative Arts (ICA) where she explores languaging, i.e. language as a verb, and as an art form, frequently spilling over into trance-languaging. Supporting the AFEMS conference with her admin & logistics skills has been eye-and-door-opening.

Photo Credit: "Framed by Claire" 


If you have ever been to your first Afems conference you will probably never forget - it is unlike any other conference. We have black and African women scholars and creatives return year after year. However, as we only started charging a registration fee in 2019 and need to continue to do so, and we endeavour to keep it as minimal as we can, we need to raise funding. 

So Why Support Afems?

  • Afems is the first sustained conference dedicated to studies in and on African feminisms, black feminisms, black feminist/African feminist thought/creative theorisations.

  • It provides a stage for dialogues on African feminisms as theory and practice, it invites presentations which exemplify African feminists' thought, using creative theorisations, bio-mythography and critical imagination.

  • Afems' unique format brings together scholars, performers, artists and writers to engage in an exciting exchange to find new forms of knowledge production.

  • The conference engages with applied humanities and social science studies in a more imaginative way: instead of stereotyping African women as ‘problems to be solved’, they recognise women as innovative agents and decision-makers in their specific contexts.

Here is a Little Bit of Our History and How we Came to Be:

Our Aims and Objectives:

Our conference aims to build theory and scholarly research to actively support a discourse of applied humanities and social science research, pointing out the relevance of African feminist scholarship, by doing the following:


- providing a yearly platform for the presentation of African women’s voices in their many historical, contemporary and multi-disciplinary manifestations


- featuring African and black feminisms discourse presented in accessible language in order to facilitate the widest discussions about our everyday lived experiences and ways in which youth can tackle daily issues


- Afems 2017, 2018 and 2019 sessions have been recorded, where possible, and made available for free on this archival website in order to build an archive of African-black feminist research that can be easily accessed to encourage further research, but also leave a historical trace of these engagements


- Afems focuses on local, continental and international African-black feminist discussions, which means that these discussions are nuanced, heterogenous, complex, contradictory and complicated (like all of us), which we hope arises and affects the indigenous discourses that arise from such engagements

- Afems is committed to exploring and experimenting with new ways of applying knowledge from Humanities, Education and Social Science studies, while welcoming all fields. This is achieved by providing an open stage, engaging presenters, creatives, activists and audiences in critically rigorous discourse, enabled by a pledge to practices from African-black feminisms. Afems is marked by:


• Creative Theorisations

• Diversity


• Dialogue


• Language, Activism and Access


• Differently-abled Accessibility


• Eco-conscious


• Self-care

• Safe Space


- Afems takes that last point about safe space seriously - you've never presented a paper? Fear not - many first time presenters and students present in our conference and feel nurtured by this environment because we all have been there. Many of our experienced scholars taken on mentorship roles - but you can still expect critical feedback! 


- Afems showcases South(ern) African feminist intellectuals - and we have many! In the last three years, theorists, keynotes, visual artists, authors, poets, performers at Afems have included: Prof Pumla Gqola, Dr Yvette Abrahams, Dr Betty Govinden, Dr Danai Muptosa, Prof Neelika Jayawardane, Prof Patricia McFadden, Ms Kharnita Mohamed, Kauru Collective (Ms Refilwe Nkomo and Ms Thato Magotsi), Ms Siphokazi Jonas, Dr Ntabiseng Motsemme, Prof Gabeba Baderoon, Dr Siphokazi Magadlala, Ms Shelley Barry, Ms Natasha Becker, Ms Mamela Nyamza, Prof Nomusa Makhubu, Dr Same Mdluli, Ms Nkule Mabaso, Ms Nontobeko Ntombela, Ms Zodwa Tutani-Skeyi. 

How Can You Support Afems?

The truth is that we really struggle to raise funds for Afems from year to year. Every year from 150 conference attendees it costs ideally about R550 000 to run the conference for 3 days providing 3 (cheap) meals for them and teas twice a day. We do not do paraphenalia, we consider our eco-footprint at all times, and we re-use as much as we can from year to year. And each year we raise about half of what we need and run the conference with a lot of black women smarts, a lot of generosity from our volunteers and funders (including our universities), and even more understanding from our conference participants and attendees.

So if you are interested in supporting Afems and the vision we have, you can do so in small and big ways:

  • you can pay your full registration fee (all registration fees are used towards our meals costs which is a good chunk of our budget)

  • you can pay more than your registration fee - help sponsor someone else, or several others and we will ensure that the monies you paid goes directly towards someone's registration fees

  • sponsor someone's travel or accommodation

  • sponsor any additional amount - R1000, £ 100, $1000, €100 - you can't imagine how these amounts all add up for us at Afems

  • sponsor a line item - maybe the arts are close to your heart, then why not sponsor a performance or the exhibition; or sponsor activists to come to conference? 

  • you can offer to assist the Afems team with any kind of work - we are entirely voluntary-based with a million other demands on our time. Almost all our media is voluntary labour, as is our website, etc. (sorry media companies who contact us - we have no money to pay you yet!). Maybe you have much better ideas than the two Profs who run this? Assistance is always appreciated. 

  • we would like to publish the conference proceedings of Afems from year to year - for that we need an editorial team, blind reviewers and about R80 000 after the conference to make that happen. Think you can make this happen? Let us know as publications seek not only to recuperate voicings that have been silenced or rendered invisible (and the recuperative strategies used by scholars to allow them to speak through time and space), but also to look at mechanisms and methodologies by which we ‘speak’ and ‘write’ to articulate our (creative) theorisations to visibilise our agency as heritage. One only has to go through this remarkable archive to hear the amazing work presented on this platform to see why we want to publish the conference proceedings from year-to-year.

  • ultimately, we would like to establish our own African Feminist Press. For that we need about R1 million to buy the riso-press which enables us to print and bind our own books as a print-on-demand black women's press. 

  • maybe you are a scholar at a university, you have attended Afems before and have loved it! So why not think of hosting it? Afems is not tied to Profs Spencer or Khan but as long as the central heart of an African-black feminismS Humanities-Social Sciences creativities-centred conference holds, we are happy to see it change hands 

For more information on Afems funding please contact Prof Sharlene Khan (sharlene.khan@wits.ac.za) or Prof Lynda Spencer (l.spencer@ru.ac.za).