International Student Gigi Ngcobo Selected to Moderate Nontombi Tutu’s Lecture at Wharton Center

On Nov. 5, the Wharton Center for Performing Arts welcomed Nontombi Naomi Tutu, the daughter of Desmond Tutu, a cleric and Nobel Prize winner from South Africa known for his work opposing apartheid.

For the first time ever, an undergraduate has been selected to moderate a Wharton Center event. That student, Gigi Ngcobo, an international student from South Africa studying Media and Information and Finance, had the honor to introduce Nontombi Tutu before her appearance. Nontombi Tutu is an activist, consultant and educator. She has the unique perspective of growing up black and female in apartheid South Africa. The event is part of MSU’s Year of Global Africa.

“The opportunity to be the first undergraduate chosen to moderate a lecture at Wharton Center means opening doors for other students, especially those who are marginalized and underrepresented in our MSU community,” said Ngcobo. “Having the privilege to moderate [Nontombi] Tutu's lecture means having the opportunity to have a critical conversation about race and healing, and sharing the insights I gather with others who deal with trauma stemming from their race.”

A Shared Philosophy

Ngcobo believes she was chosen to moderate the talk because she has had a unique set of life experiences and shares many commonalities with Nontombi Tutu. Additionally, she participates in Impact 89FM, which has given her experience speaking smoothly and confidently on a public platform.

“I have [similarities] with Ms. Tutu, [including] being a black female that calls South Africa home but resides in the U.S., working on activism projects and subscribing to the philosophy of Ubuntu,” said Ngcobo.

The African philosophy of Ubuntu means “I am because we are.” The words indicate a person cannot be okay if the person next to them is suffering, because all humans are connected and share life experiences. Ngcobo has been involved in several projects that bring the philosophy to life –– including Artribution, a project that utilized art as an incision point for discussing and raising awareness on human rights violations happening within Africa.

Forging Connections

As the moderator, Ngcobo was responsible for ensuring that Nontombi Tutu delivered a successful talk and had a chance to engage in meaningful dialogue with members of the community. She introduced the activist to the audience and focused on driving a conversational tone throughout the lecture, after spending time studying other moderators’ techniques to learn best practices.

“I was excited to hear Ms. Tutu's thoughts about building gender coalitions across racial lines, striving for justice and hearing about her stance on the extremism that is spreading across the world,” said Ngcobo. “As a black woman, I have struggled with forming bonds with other women, relationships which are vital as they assist with navigating a patriarchal world that leaves all women regardless of color wounded to some degree. Ms. Tutu’s talk left me better equipped to challenge this difficulty.”

By Rianna N. Middleton

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