A vision for a three-year undergrad degree in African studies

05 January 2015

Prof Lungisile Ntsebeza
Centre for African Studies

The mandate of the Centre for African Studies is to promote African studies across all the faculties at UCT. When I became director I asked myself how it is possible for the centre to change UCT's institutional culture, so that it views itself as an essential part of the continent, instead of an institution that is on the African continent by accident. A further challenge was the fact that the centre does not teach - especially when you consider that the institutional culture is seated in research and teaching, with teaching serving as a form of indoctrination. What is taught and how it is taught constitutes a university's culture, so being denied the opportunity to teach was a serious problem.

Addressing the issue of curriculum was uppermost on my agenda, and one way of transforming the university was to develop a course centred on Africa. By introducing such a course we hope to reason with colleagues about changing their teaching habits. What they teach should relate to their geographical location and to the students they are teaching. Lecturers do not know how to teach students - they do not know or care to know, so they resort to forcing students to get to know them.

What is taught is never neutral - not even in the natural sciences. We all have biases, which are also reflected in our research. The prescribed course material is also important. The challenge for those seeking to change the curriculum is to introduce other ideas and writing. A transformed curriculum does not exclude Kant and Hegel. We must not in our attempt to transform the curriculum do away with, say, neoclassical text. It must be taught; but then it must also be exposed to African scholars who critique it. Doing away with neoclassicism when changing the curriculum is like practising boxing without a sparring partner.

My vision for the course on Africa is that it be a three-year degree that should be designed entirely around debates. The first module would revolve around the debate on teaching in Africa - in other words, the teaching of African studies in a postcolonial context. I propose that the second module should be on ancient Egypt as a cradle of civilisation. In the second year, the course would focus on African thinking on economics and politics, while in the third year we hope to foreground the importance of language on the continent. I believe in multilingualism, and view monolingualism as a relic from our colonial past. The final module would be on the political economy of Africa, which I am deeply involved with and which Archie Mafeje had a lot to say on in his writing.

I can't see how the course can develop without input from the students. This underlines the importance of student input in the development of a transformed curriculum. Students must equip themselves intellectually and take on their lecturers with their (alternative) ideas - that is, fight them with ideas. The university's intellectual bankruptcy will only become apparent when students come with new ideas that convince the lecturers that what's being offered is inadequate.

The plan is for the course to be offered for the first time in 2017, thus giving us enough time to consult widely. We want to engage in consultation that involves considered listening and the incorporation or rejection of contributions.

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Monday Monthly

Volume 34 Edition 04

25 May 2015

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