The Star Late Edition

Turning ivory towers into ebony towers

- CECILIA LWIINDI NEDZIWE such student Northweste­rn

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.

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