The Star Late Edition
Turning ivory towers into ebony towers
SINCE the dawn of South Africa’s democracy in 1994, calls to dismantle and transform the exclusive colonial and apartheid past are increasingly becoming louder in conversations and debates. The buzzword “decolonise” has repeatedly been echoed at various platforms within and outside institutions of higher learning in order to transform South Africa’s present, which is characterised by deep divisions, social marginalisation and racial differences.
The decolonisation project also represents a more tangible effort to begin to translate the multiple expectations and promises of a new democracy into reality for the majority of the country’s 57 million people.
In a bid to contribute to transformation debates, the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan African Thought and Conversation (IPATC) will host a conference tomorrow and on Saturday on “Transforming Ivory Towers to Ebony Towers: Lessons for South Africa’s Curriculum Transformation in the Humanities from Africa and African-American Studies”, at the UJ Arts Centre, Auckland Park Kingsway Campus.
This is a follow-up to last year’s IPATC three-day conference on “The Pan-African Pantheon”, convened to begin to make tangible contributions to decolonise the academic curriculum.
That conference was unique in that it commemorated the Soweto youth uprising of June 16, 1976 against apartheid education, thereby highlighting students’ central role in championing decolonisation and transformation efforts.
Between 2015 and 2016, protests began at UCT with the #RhodesMustFall movement, and in the spirit of solidarity spread to Wits and other universities countrywide. The key issues around the protests included: curriculum transformation, name change, support for disadvantaged black students, and vacation accommodation, among others.
While steps on some aspects as name change have been noticeable at some universities, as well as a controversial free higher education deal announced by former president Jacob Zumba at Nasrec in December, transformation has generally been slow.
This week’s conference is further exceptional in that some students who were key drivers of the #RhodesMustFall movement, as well as other key transformation debates across their universities, are among 25 scholars and scholar activists from around the world who will present papers. They will focus on the lessons from South Africa’s movement.
They will speak on topics around four broad themes: the challenges of transforming the South African higher education sector; key issues in transforming South Africa’s higher education sector; lessons from Africa; and lessons from African-American studies.
Scholars include: Crain Soudien, executive director, Human Sciences Research Council; Shireen Motala, senior director of the Postgraduate School at UJ; Ahmed Bawa, chief executive, Universities South Africa; Walter Allen, University of California, Los Angeles; Thato Pule, former chairperson, transformation and social responsiveness, student representative council, UCT; Hlengiwe Patricia Ndlovu, doctoral candidate, Wits; Nthabiseng Motsemme, academic director, National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences; Harry Garuba, UCT; Jimi Adesina, Archie Mafeje Research Institute, Unisa; Jeffrey Mabelebele, registrar, University of Limpopo; Boubacar Barry, University of Dakar, Senegal; Toyin Falola, University of Texas, US; Chris Wanjala, University of Nairobi, Kenya; Zine Magubane, Boston College, US; and Aldon Morris, University, Illinois, US.
This conference is equally unique, not only in providing a platform for students to share lessons, but opening up the conference to other students and the public in order to enrich the debate and discussion about transformational issues in South Africa’s humanities curricula.
What is further distinctive about the conference is that it seeks to draw on transformation lessons from post-colonial Africa and post-civil rights African-American studies in an effort to contribute to transforming South Africa’s humanities curriculum.
Prominent scholars from across Africa, some of whom are involved in similar curriculum transformation projects, such as Toyin Falola (the Ibadan School of History) and Boubacar Barry (the Dakar School of Culture), will speak at the conference. Providing lessons from African-American studies will be distinguished academics such as Zine Magubane (Decolonising African and African-American Studies); Aldon Morris (Lessons from the Atlanta School of Sociology), and Krista Johnson (Lessons from the Howard School of International Affairs).
The lessons from Africa and African-American studies will be carefully interrogated and applied to post-apartheid South Africa’s own specific and historic context.
The conference is part of a two-year project on curriculum transformation in the humanities. A policy brief will emerge from this event, and will be widely disseminated to policymakers in South Africa, Africa and the US.
An edited book will emerge in 2019 from the papers presented on the four broad themes. Thereafter, public dialogues will be convened to popularise and disseminate the key findings at universities across South Africa.
A policy brief will be widely disseminated to policymakers
Cecilia Lwiindi Nedziwe is research co-ordinator at the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation.