Aca­demic ‘de­coloni­sa­tion’

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

Ge­orge Devenish is Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor at UKZN and one of the schol­ars who as­sisted in draft­ing the In­terim Con­sti­tu­tion in 1993.

IRECENTLY at­tended a most suc­cess­ful and in­ter­est­ing Con­fer­ence of the South African Law Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion at Swakop­mund in Namibia. One of the im­por­tant is­sues that emerged from the con­fer­ence pro­ceed­ings was the chal­lenge pre­sented by “de­coloni­sa­tion”.

Al­though the term has tran­spired to be mired in con­sid­er­able con­tro­versy, it has be­come part of our so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and ed­u­ca­tional dis­course re­lat­ing to trans­for­ma­tion.

In­formed po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors ac­cept that gen­uine trans­for­ma­tion is es­sen­tial for the health and sur­vival of democ­racy in South Africa. All things con­sid­ered, it is ap­po­site to use the term de­coloni­sa­tion in this re­gard.

It is also sub­mit­ted that an in­tel­li­gent and in­formed de­bate on de­coloni­sa­tion in re­la­tion to ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion should be ben­e­fi­cial for the process of trans­for­ma­tion in South Africa.

De­coloni­sa­tion must ob­vi­ously amount to much more than merely chang­ing the names of build­ings and the re­moval of stat­ues from univer­sity cam­puses.

It must of ne­ces­sity in­volve a process of re­newal and re­gen­er­a­tion that im­pacts pro­foundly on the cur­ric­ula, con­tent of cour­ses, lan­guage and man­age­ment of the uni­ver­si­ties so as to re­flect the ethos of African uni­ver­si­ties that serve the in­ter­est and needs of all our peo­ple.

This will re­quire a process and most cer­tainly can­not be at­tained in­stan­ta­neously.

If ap­proached and ad­dressed cor­rectly, it could be an in­or­di­nately en­rich­ing process. For this to oc­cur it would have to in­volve the stu­dents, aca­demic staff and man­age­ment.

It would in­volve the in­fu­sion of indigenous knowl­edge and cul­ture into the body of learn­ing and schol­ar­ship, the syl­labi, cur­ric­ula and meth­ods of learn­ing and teach­ing at ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions.

This would have to in­volve the de­vel­op­ment and use of indigenous lan­guages so that they could be used side by side with the English lan­guage.

Schol­ars would have to con­trib­ute to in­ter alia learned jour­nals in re­la­tion to con­tent and modus operandi of such de­coloni­sa­tion and trans­for­ma­tion to give an in­tel­lec­tual and aca­demic con­tent.

A mean­ing­ful dis­course on de­coloni­sa­tion and trans­for­ma­tion should be ac­cepted as an in­tel­lec­tual chal­lenge to all aca­demics and not as a threat.

The in­es­timable value of Western schol­ar­ship, phi­los­o­phy, lit­er­a­ture and science will not be aban­doned in the process of re­newal and in­vig­o­ra­tion that will take place in terms of such trans­for­ma­tion but sub­ject to re-in­ter­pre­ta­tion and eval­u­a­tion from an African per­spec­tive, but within the frame­work of univer­sal hu­man rights and non-racial­ism.

Un­for­tu­nately there are some po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists who un­der the ban­ner of crit­i­cal race the­ory are ad­vanc­ing a far more rad­i­cal racial na­tional agenda.

They re­ject non-racial­ism, as re­flected in the South African Con­sti­tu­tion, be­cause it sup­pos­edly de­nies the cen­tral­ity of “black pain”.

So for in­stance the #RhodesMustFall mis­sion state­ment rejects the Con­sti­tu­tion’s con­cep­tion of race “as fun­da­men­tally racist be­cause it pre­sup­poses that racism is a univer­sal ex­pe­ri­ence, thus nor­mal­is­ing the suf­fer­ings of those who ac­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­ence it”.

Ac­cord­ing to such rea­son­ing only whites can be racist and only blacks can ex­pe­ri­ence the suf­fer­ing of racism. That is why “white­ness” is the core prob­lem and must be elim­i­nated.

This very rad­i­cal, sub­jec­tive and sim­plis­tic ap­proach, ap­pears to de­monise all white per­sons and en­tirely re­ject the Western tra­di­tion and con­tent of schol­ar­ship.

It it is an in­tel­lec­tu­ally in­de­fen­si­ble ap­proach, found not only in South Africa but also in the US, where it ap­par­ently has its ge­n­e­sis and where its pro­po­nents de­clare: “I don’t want to de­bate, I want to talk about my pain”.

The pro­po­nents are ob­sessed by race and de­clare South Africa’s core prob­lem is one of “white­ness” and de­fine whites as alien in South Africa and its in­sti­tu­tions.

This highly emo­tional and in­ward look­ing ap­proach, el­e­vates the African “cul­ture of pain” caused by colo­nial op­pres­sion to a sem­i­nal tenet, which must take pref­er­ence over both di­ver­sity and equal­ity, and would re­quire the con­sti­tu­tion to be brought into line with this cen­tral theme based on the supremacy of a dom­i­nant black racial cul­ture.

This by ne­ces­sity would re­quire the nega­tion and re­moval of the in­flu­ence of Euro­cen­tric ideas and phi­los­o­phy, in a vir­tu­ally rev­o­lu­tion­ary, as op­posed to an in­cre­men­tal, man­ner.

It would be the South African equiv­a­lent of the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion pro­pounded by Mao Ze­dong that oc­curred in China in the 1960s.

It is fi­nally re­al­is­ti­cally sub­mit­ted that it would eas­ily pro­duce or con­done vi­o­lence in the process of trans­for­ma­tion, which would in­evitably have pro­foundly neg­a­tive, if not dis­as­trous in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic con­se­quences for South African uni­ver­si­ties and in­deed our body politic.

It should be un­equiv­o­cally re­jected and in­stead we should em­bark on a cre­ative process of re­newal, in­no­va­tion and change in­volv­ing de­bate, dis­cus­sion and dis­course un­der the ban­ner of trans­for­ma­tion and de­coloni­sa­tion.

CLEAN­ING UP: A worker cleans off paint left by protest­ing stu­dents the day af­ter vi­o­lent protests at the Univer­sity of Cape Town.

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