School of Social Sciences

Making the University Our Heritage: The Decolonisation Agenda

Highlights from the Decolonisation Agenda debate
Highlights from the Decolonisation Agenda debate

The keynote speaker was Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Humanities Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize. Respondents included student Mr Xolani Dube, University of KwaZulu-Natal Staff Union representative Mr Raymond Parkies and anthropologist and senior academic Professor Maheshvari Naidu.

Cluster Leader for Culture (Anthropology and Tourism) Dr Maserole Kgari-Masondo remarked, ‘A university is a home for its stakeholders, that is, students and employees and it has to adhere to the needs of all the inhabitants of its space.’ She believes that in the era of decolonisation it is important to discuss ways in which all stakeholders can make UKZN a heritage.

‘Decolonisation of the University means we must construct the Institution in accordance with the needs of the country, students, employees and the global community. That means that all cultures must be pushed to the centre, especially African indigenous culture as it has been downplayed for a long time,’ she said.

In his keynote address, Mkhize highlighted the importance of knowing one’s history especially the fundamental principles of Ubuntu in order to ground the education system on the African continent. He expressed his disappointment that UKZN has not introduced African history in the curriculum as part of its vision to be the Premier University of African Scholarship.

‘We need to reclaim our legacy, imbue it with new meaning and return to the foundations of research and knowledge that is interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary and multidisciplinary,’ argued Mkhize. He believes that language is central in decolonising the curriculum and announced that the College will be re-introducing Kiswahili and Arabic studies as part of this reclamation project.

Dube stated that Africanism is not accommodated in the curriculum and that colonial elements are still evident in universities. He spoke of the lived experiences of African students, highlighting that they are objects rather than subjects of knowledge. ‘I must applaud UKZN though for taking some steps in rectifying this and particularly for championing isiZulu as a first-year compulsory course,’ he said.

Parkies stated that one of the ways to make UKZN our heritage is to look after our students as they deserve the highest quality education. He believes that students should not only be taught in their mother tongue but that UKZN should take the lead in collaborating with companies in KwaZulu-Natal, to create more jobs to address unemployment.

‘As an institution of higher learning, UKZN should be at the forefront in preparing students and workers for the fourth Industrial Revolution. This is important to emancipate our university from colonisation,’ said Parkies.

Naidu noted that the decolonisation agenda is critical in the infrastructure and scaffold of thought, of the pedagogy and the architecture of teaching and learning.

‘Human history is a struggle between imagining a better life and the constraints of the past and present. Some of these constraints are material, while some are social or political,’ she said.

Naidu described colonisation as the slow violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space. She noted that the force of student voices in the #FeesMustFall movement snowballed into wider demands for decolonisation, decolonised education and a decolonised university. ‘We cannot ignore, however, that students also bring their historied bodies and their gendered beings into our universities.’

Naidu posited that the decolonisation process needs to be resilient but reflexive. ‘It would be counterproductive to dig up the past and live it as it was. To do that would be to commit the crime of turning African heritage into African artefact, which would be a new kind of colonisation. This is something to keep in mind as we look to claim our university and position it as our heritage,’ she said.

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