Interview with Professor Rodwell Makombe, Visiting British Academy Fellow

rodwell makombe

Rodwell Makombe, Professor in the Department of English at the North-West University, South Africa, spent Hilary Term in Oxford as a Visiting British Academy Fellow. In this interview, we find out more about his time at Oxford.

Could you tell us about your research interests?

I work on two research areas, namely postcolonial literary and cultural studies. On the literary front, my interest is mainly on African literature with specific focus on what I can call ‘the postcolonial condition” as represented in literary texts. I have done some work on literary representations of the socio-economic crisis in Zimbabwe, specifically issues of everyday survival and narrations and counter-narrations of the nation. On the cultural studies front, I am interested in social media discourses of resistance. I have done some work on cultural texts such as cartoons, memes, social media texts and songs, exploring how they subvert hegemonic narratives of the nation in Zimbabwe.

Which book has had the biggest impact on you?

Most recently, I would say Elleke Boehmer’s Postcolonial Poetics. I think it is a brilliant theoretical text, written in very simple language but making a very sophisticated and profound argument. I also like the fact that it’s the kind of book that you can read at one sitting, on a bus or train – its theoretical but quite easy to follow. The writing is lyrical, poetic, it’s like theoretical prose poetry. I am not sure if I should mention another one since the question says one book, but if I should, the second one would be Achille Mbembe’s On the Postcolony – it’s the kind of book that keeps calling you back to it, especially when you are working on the postcolony.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?

Oxford is a nice place. It seems to have everything in one place – libraries, bookshops, grocery shops within walking distance, and a vibrant intellectual culture, but it’s a bit expensive, and somewhat cramped. If I can get a spacious house, which will go with very high rentals, well, I might choose Oxford. I suppose the question presupposes that I would be able to afford the place too.

Describe your ideal day.

My ideal day in Oxford – I wake up a bit late around 7 or 8 (by ‘wake up’ I mean get out of bed). I usually struggle to sleep. Not sure if its about the change of place or some sort of anxiety. I read an article in bed, those that normally pop up on my gmail, newly published articles. Sometimes, I read news on the phone via prescribed online newspapers. Get out of bed, maybe by 8:30. Do some exercises in my room, take a shower, and make breakfast. Then I go upstairs to the sitting room to work on my project. If the inspiration is right, I work until around 5pm, go out for a walk or run or go the grocery shop and come back to the house to cook and lie in bed and read again before going to sleep, which usually happens sometime after 12pm.

What made you want to spend time at the English Faculty in Oxford?

Firstly, the University of Oxford is a big name globally and it’s a privilege to get this opportunity to do my work from here. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I wanted to work with Prof. Elleke Boehmer, who is an internationally recognised scholar and co-founder of postcolonial studies, an area that I am also interested in. I suppose all mentees enjoy having a face-to-face conversation with their mentors.

What were your impressions of Oxford before you came?

Well, Oxford was to me, an iconic university, a global standard of academic excellence.

How have you found your time at Oxford?

My time at Oxford has been great. The library facilities are excellent. I can access almost every book that I want to read either as a physical or soft copy via the online platforms. The University has numerous reading spaces, and the administration staff is quite helpful. My host, Elleke was very helpful. She always had time to read my work and give feedback. This is something I didn’t expect because I thought she would be too busy, given her profile in the discipline.

What has been most useful or interesting?

The library has been very useful, and so was the guidance I received from Elleke. I also enjoyed the Postcolonial seminars. The students were always prepared, and the seminars were quite lively. The intellectual culture at the University is also vibrant. There is always a talk somewhere, on some area of intellectual inquiry.

Has there been anything which has surprised you (about the University or the city of Oxford)?

At one point I thought I might meet Shakespeare in the streets. The city has this atmosphere that I associate with the 17th century. And everyone is always in a hurry to some place, almost all the time. At the beginning, it was a bit lonely because people looked too busy to talk but as time went on, I did make some friends.

What are your plans once the fellowship has finished?

I plan to continue collaborating with my host on future projects, and of course, publish the book that I have been working on. It would be great to get an opportunity to come back to Oxford again at some point.


Rodwell Makombe is Professor in the Department of English at the North-West University, South Africa. He is a previous fellow of the African Humanities Program (AHP) and the University of Michigan Presidential Scholars Fellowship (UMAPS). He is currently a Fellow of the British Academy at the University of Oxford, with Prof. Elleke Boehmer as host. He has also been awarded the Humboldt Fellowship for Experienced Researchers (2024- 2026) with the University of Bonn in Germany. His research focuses on postcolonial literary studies, social media, and crisis literature. He has published several journal articles and two books titled Cultural texts of resistance in Zimbabwe: Music, Memes, Media (2021) and Coloniality of migrancy in African Diasporic Literatures (2023, co-authored).