Changing the game

At Fundani’s second seminar on decolonisation UNISA Prof Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni started off by reminding everyone that in order to decolonise anything, you need to understand how it was constituted because the concept refers to undoing.

“In a theoretical and practical sense,” said Ndlovu-Gatsheni.

He sees the problem as twofold – systemic and epistemic. On the systemic side we are facing modernity with modern problems (such as the exploitation of social divisions) with no solutions. Ndlovu-Gatsheni sees the epistemic side of decolonialisation as much more important to the university though, as it manifests, to him, in an exhausted knowledge system and continuing epistemic violence.

This need not be a problem for him though, as the founder of the Africa Decolonial Research Network at UNISA thinks decolonising the university curriculum could happen by tapping into different indigenous knowledge systems.

Ndlovu-Gatsheni doesn’t think this needs to be at the expense of the current Western way of looking at the world, but in addition to, thus expanding the knowledge base that students can access.

He gave seminar attendants a historic breakdown of some African countries’ attempts at decolonisation of their economies and education systems, reminding everyone that the idea is not a new one, going back as far as Dar es Salaam in the 1860s.

“Today we are questioning the rules of the game and we have seen that joining the game is not enough,” he said.

“Every time when I find people discussing internationalisation of a university, I remember that the problem of the university in Africa is that it is international with its curriculum dictated to from outside, never local. We are not rooted where we are located.”

The way forward then, for him, is to slowly move towards practical actions that we can take: “I want to argue that one major problem of Europe is that it is over-represented in theory, knowledge and education presented at local universities.

“We cannot wish Europe away, but Europe must accept it is a province of the world, it is not the world. Africa must be moved away from the margins to the centre.”

Ways in which he wants to see that shift is for lecturers to expand what they teach to include the thoughts and writings of African academics and to draw from the African archive (as in the African ways of knowing, doing and being).

“You must expand the shoulders on which you want to stand, in terms of race, gender and where they come from.

“The second thing is we need to review our disciplines, constantly review to check if they are still fit for purpose.

“It is also dangerous to just call someone racist and replace the work. Adapt a new way of critiquing and questioning them. That way you avoid just replacing the system, you change it.”

In conclusion Ndlovu-Gatsheni said: “I can’t change your curriculum.

“I can only make you travel with me to change your consciousness. At the end of the day it tells us what kind of university we want. We need to re-engineer our philosophy of education.”

Written by Theresa Smith

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