How is the university centring its African identity through scholarship, teaching and learning practices, or activist initiatives?
|Afrocentric actions||H.1 Actions taken which adopt an Afrocentric lens, centre the African continent, or critically respond to UCT’s African identity within curriculum, pedagogy, research, through workshops, trainings or discussions, co- or extra-curricular activities, through supporting international students and challenging xenophobia within the learning environment.|
In parallel to benchmark D (Place and Space), this benchmark focuses on centring the African continent and employing and Afrocentric lens within UCT. Many departments reported achieving this benchmark, however it’s important to question the impact of these actions. For example, do actions critically engage with the complexity and vastness of the African continent? Do actions meaningfully unpack the dynamics of power and violence within the African continent as is apparent in patriarchal, homophobic and transphobic practices; undemocratic governance practices; or violence fuelled by socio-economic disparities? These are some of the questions that can assist in making sense of the actions taken under this benchmark.
Across UCT, many programmes and interventions have a specific focus on Africa and attempt to recentre content through the lens of Africa as an epistemic location. Entities reported the following actions:
Who contributed tothis benchmark?
Seven faculties and five non-academic departments contributed to this benchmark.
How effective were the actions?
This benchmark aims to capture how the university is centring its African identity through scholarship, teaching and learning practices, and activist initiatives. In 2021, UCT achieved this benchmark through prioritising Afrocentrism in research, supporting African students and hosting cultural activities to mark Africa Day and other important celebrations. While some of these actions (such as the focus on research) are likely to critically engage the African continent and African epistemic practices, others – such as marking Africa Day – are unlikely to have the same level of critical impact. In addition, while UCT does support a small number of students from other African countries to study at UCT, this doesn’t take away from the grossly xenophobic context, in the form of regressive legal practices towards foreign nations and xenophobic social and behavioural norms.
Efforts that seek to centre UCT’s African identity need to do so in a critical manner. In order to better meet this benchmark, UCT’s own positionality needs to be acknowledged, so that its efforts to centre its African identity disturb rather than accept systems of power on the African continent.
An example of a good practice
The Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA) African Epistemologies Advanced Seminar Series: The African Epistemologies Advanced Seminar Series aimed to showcase African knowledge systems and traditions, especially those not granted adequate visibility or centrality in hegemonic academic curricula. African and Africanist philosophers are prominently featured, but overall, the series encompassed an interdisciplinary orientation. Apart from the central themes of African philosophy, the series also invited speakers to reflect on the questions of African feminisms, pan-Africanism, race, interculturality and the conundrums of protohistory.
The forum is based at the Centre for African Studies and provides a platform to centre indigenous knowledge and activism. The A/Xarra Forum established a Khoekhoegowab Curriculum Review Committee to guide the rollout of Khoekhoegowab language teaching on an ongoing basis and to situate the programme centrally within a decolonial pedagogical online framework. The online course was a first of its kind in socially responsive teaching in higher education in South Africa during COVID-19. While most of the participants were from the Cape Metro, the programme attracted interest from as far as Barrydale, Swellendam, George, Oudsthoorn and Gauteng, which really expanded the outreach of the language offering.
Attempting to critically engage with African identity in a context where there are diverse perspectives and romanticised notions can be difficult. At UCT sometimes the easier option is taken – that is using cultural and celebration days to share food and dress, and in so doing, connecting across differences and possibly building solidarity. While these events are useful, they do not often lead to critical engagement on Africanness or reflect on the power dynamics at play within the continent. To create an environment in which UCT owns its African identity, it’s important for programmes and actions to encourage a deep reflection and response to Africa’s unique challenges and innovations. This would involve stronger partnerships with African institutions (as has emerged in 2021), which contribute to advocacy and activism in addition to research, teaching and learning.
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