a work in progress
DECOLONIZING SOUTH AFRICA
LESLEY LE GRANGE
Le Grange is Professor in the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch
University, South Africa. He is a former chair of the Department
of Curriculum Studies and former Vice-Dean (Research) of the Faculty
of Education at S. U.
THAN TURNING BACK THE CLOCK
Africans have been appalled during 2016 by images of graduates
begging for jobs at traffic lights. Their pleas are a stark depiction
of the country’s grave youth unemployment crisis. This,
and the broader economic crunch, has probably at least partly
driven the student protests that began in early 2015.
their protests students have raised critical questions about the
structural causes of growing inequalities. They want to know why
black South Africans are still suffering the debilitating effects
of material immiseration when their parents and grandparents’
generations struggled – and sometimes died – for a
student leaders have pointed out that the protests aren’t
about a single issue. Katlego Dismelo, a PhD candidate at the
University of Witwatersrand, argues that their work is about:
eradicating the painful exclusions and daily micro aggressions
which go hand-in-hand with institutional racism within these
spaces . . . And it is also about laying bare the failures
of the heterosexual, patriarchal, neoliberal capitalist values
which have become so characteristic of the country’s
the ways they’re seeking this eradication is through a call
to decolonize universities’ curricula. This has been echoed
by the country’s higher education minister, who has said
all of them, must shed the problematic features of apartheid
do students mean when they talk about decolonizing the curriculum?
And why is it such an important process?
of South Africa’s universities have, since their inception,
adopted Western models of academic organization. These largely
excluded and decimated the historical record of colonized people.
The colonial model of academic organization is based on Western
disciplinary knowledge. It was entrenched during apartheid and
has not been redressed during the post-apartheid era in any serious
and theorists you’ll find today in university disciplines
from the humanities through to the social and natural sciences
are largely derived from Europe or the global North. This is 22
years after apartheid ended and in spite of growing bodies of
literature about theories and theorists from the global South.
of higher education after 1994 has focused on issues such as governance,
mergers and incorporations, and quality assurance regimes. Matters
of the curriculum have been neglected. Some universities have
preserved colonial curricula under the guise of institutional
autonomy and academic freedom.
student demographics have changed significantly at most historically
advantaged universities, academic staff demographics haven’t.
So the curriculum-makers haven’t really changed.
this explains why it’s so crucial that decolonization should
happen. The more complex element, though, is how the process ought
to students via the media and through my own direct interactions
with some, I have come to understand their view as follows: they
believe that decolonization involves destroying the existing Western-based
curriculum and replacing it with something new. This ought to
be something indigenous or African.
and reclaiming ways of knowing that have been denigrated during
the colonial and apartheid periods are important to the process
of decolonization. So too is legitimating the commitments, worldviews,
beliefs and values held in common by the world’s colonized
people. This forms part of an emerging and evolving Indigenous
Paradigm. I use Indigenous with a capital “I” here
to depict not simply what is homegrown but also what all colonized
people across the world share in common.
we can’t simply turn back the clock. Decolonization can’t
mean reversing technological advancement and going back to old
formulas that were pertinent when the planet was less densely
populated and when social relations were much stronger than they
indigenous knowledge doesn’t reside in pristine fashion
outside of the influences of other knowledge. All bodies of knowledge
have been influenced to lesser or greater degrees by others. Of
course this doesn’t mean that imperial ideologies and colonial
relations of production that continually characterize and shape
academic practices should be left unchallenged. It might suggest
instead that decolonization doesn’t have to mean the destruction
of Western knowledge – but its decentering. It would then
become one way of knowing rather than ‘the way of knowing.’
APPROACH TO CONSIDER
decentering by implication means the legitimation of indigenous
knowledge. It makes possible the creation of new knowledge spaces
– third or interstitial spaces. Australian scholar David
Turnbull provides an example of such a third space.
out that Aboriginal Australians in that country’s Northern
Territory have for many years used their own performative modes
to map their country. They do this by identifying every tree and
every significant feature of their territory. Today some are doing
the same thing using the latest in satellites, remote sensing
and geographical information systems. By representing their local
knowledge on digital maps they can make their ways of knowing
visible in advanced technological terms. That’s created
a new knowledge space which has transformative effects for all
way to achieve decolonization could be through the process of
deterritorialization. Put simply, this is the idea that anything
has the potential to become something other than what it is. For
example, botany has been deterritorialized into ethnobotany. This
field involves botanists working closely with indigenous communities
when collecting and documenting plants for medicinal remedies.
approach is that used by the Intercultural University of the Indigenous
Nations and Peoples, Amawtay Wasi, in Ecuador. Its curriculum
pathway comprises three cycles:
learning of indigenous knowledge;
2. The learning of Western sciences; and
3. The learning of interculturality.
In this approach students first learn about knowledge that is
local or Indigenous. Then students learn about Western sciences,
which include unlearning the mistruths these tell about colonized
peoples. It also highlights the blind spots produced by Western
sciences. Finally, what is useful of Indigenous and Western sciences
are melded together and learnt. This becomes the basis for action
that transforms education and society.
said, we can’t turn back the clock and wish for a world
that draws on pre-colonial formulas. But universities also can’t
let the imperial ideologies and colonial practices that still
characterize many practices go unchallenged.
thorny issue of decolonizing the curriculum there is not a single
approach. The academy might have to think widely and carefully
and not just throw the baby out with the bathwater. Destruction
and replacement of the Western sciences may not be the only way
of decolonizing the curriculum.