Why not call a spade a spade?

27 July 2015

Re: Monday Monthly of May 2015: How do we transform UCT? How do we decolonise UCT?

The contributions published on the subject reflect a variance of interpretation of these terms, which, though not surprising, may lead to some confusion when seeking an answer to these questions. Interestingly, when looking these terms up in three dictionaries, the South African Concise Oxford Dictionary (2002 p1247) adds to its entry: "a marked change in nature, form or appearance"; (in South Africa): "the post-apartheid process of social and political change to establish democracy and social equality".

Thato Pule writes that decolonisation is a tool for transformation, while Shose Kessi adds on to this that "the change in the discourse from transformation to decolonisation has marked a new and more radical process of change that must continue".

From reading the sometimes rather emotional sociological, political and academic discourse about transforming UCT in this issue of the Monday Monthly, I got the impression that many of the contributors are actually talking of Africanisation. Some argue for removing the influence of 'Western' or 'European' thought or knowledge, others for merging this in the aimed-for 'culture' of the university, its structure, curricula, etc.; in particular, in the humanities.

Decolonisation is not generally viewed as an appropriate term, except perhaps when it implies removal of inequities considered to have resulted from what is called 'colonial' legacies in a university. In Mbali Matandela's opinion, "Africa must be enlightened for Africans by Africans".

Having read all this and other publications in newspapers about the subject, such as by Professors Xolela Mangcu (in sociology) and Jonathan Jansen, this leads me to conclude that the common thread in all these contributions would suggest that the question at hand should be rephrased to: How do we Africanise the university?, provided of course that universality is not lost. This appears to be the main goal of most of the contributors to the discourse! In addition, it would perhaps be to the good to adopt the method used in the United States of America, where they classify citizens sociologically; and in future, here in South Africa, start to speak of Afro-Africans, Euro-Africans, Asian-Africans, Eurasian-Africans etc., whenever it is deemed necessary to indicate what is at present called the 'race' of individuals. This would also remove the reigning sensitivity to being classified by colour!

Dr JT Mets MD
Retired senior lecturer, Medical School

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