Emancipated ‘decolonisation’ at the University of Cape Town: What is it? How should it be achieved?

26 September 2017 | Opinion Timothy Crowe.

The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the individual authors in their private capacity; they do not represent or reflect the views, opinions or policies of the University of Cape Town or the Communication and Marketing Department.

Professor Vivek Chibber’s Vice-Chancellor’s Open Lecture (14 August 2017) titled “Eurocentrism, the academy and social emancipation” attempted to address these questions.

In the pre-lecture announcement, Chibber stated: “While the commitment to wrest free of Eurocentric biases and even to decolonise higher education is entirely laudable, it leaves open the question of what the content of new knowledge ought to be, and also the structure of new institutions.

“In this lecture, I suggest that the only way to press forward with these goals, while still upholding democratic principles, is by embedding the critique of Eurocentrism in an egalitarian and humanistic framework. This means rejecting parochialism of any kind, including the nativism that is often presented as a counter to Eurocentrism. Indeed, nativist critiques often recreate the Eurocentrism they seek to displace.

“For anti-colonial movements to win the full human emancipation they fought for, they need to rid themselves of the critiques embedded in nativism and nationalism.”

But, during his lecture, he actually:

  • equated the African struggle for liberation from colonialism with that between capitalism and socialism and between Eurocentrism and racism rather than Afro-relevance/centrism
  • erroneously characterised Europe as the continued centre of morality and science, with Africa being at the periphery and inferior
  • advocated the replacement of race by class, producing an “indigenous elite”
  • predicted that, without such a replacement, “nativism” [racial and nationalist discourse that can creep back into leftist thinking] will return.

During question time, when asked: “When does a black leader become free of Western influence?”, Chibber replied only when he/she advocates the “Best Western” “good ideas”, eg socialism/communism. When challenged by a black attendee: “But white Marxism and communism have had terrible consequences in this country”, he countered: “Come up with any strategy that will involve the upliftment of the vast majority of black and brown people in this country that does not involve attacking capitalism.

“There’s no solution to the problem without class.” There must be a “massive redistribution of resources” [from whom to whom?].

When asked about his views on the classic, discipline/faculty-gated, colonial university populated by traditional, scholarly “universal”, ivory-tower intellectuals versus what decolonist philosopher Achille Mbembe and UCT Transformation Deputy Vice-Chancellor Loretta Feris describe as a discipline-unbounded “pluriversity” populated by Gramscian “public intellectuals” engaged with society and focused on context, Chibber claimed not to understand the concept of a pluriversity.

He eschewed the Marxist Gramsci’s concept of public/organic intellectuals, preferring what he terms “committed intellectuals”, ‘academics’ who might be hired as academic staff, but “spend all their time in trade unions”.

With regard to his views on student demographics, he commented (to loud applause): “What we should worry about is accessibility of poor people to university.” He offered no suggestions on how to help them to develop once they were admitted.

On a constructive note, he stressed the need to develop in-house, competitive, African-rooted intelligentsia who publish in local-language journals, and warned that academic posts should not become “islands of privilege” protected by the tenure system.

In short, emancipated social decolonisation can only be achieved when a heavily taxed, partially market-driven economy is totally taken over by a communistic government and wealth is “massively redistributed”. Then, somehow, funds will be found to eliminate university fees and pay multilingual, primarily locally published, decolonised, elite academics to develop trade unions when they’re not teaching badly educated, poverty-stricken students who study socio-physics.

Is this a meaningful ‘strategy’ for UCT’s decolonisation and emancipation?

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.