Decolonise varsities, urges US professor
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Pretoria - The running student protests which have hit universities across the country were part of the process through which the younger generation processed their understanding and realisation of the existence of colonialism and racism in institutions of higher learning. That problem would not go away until the status quo changed.
(Black) students discovered that the problems of inequality encountered in their communities existed inside the universities, and they refused to accept that.
“The protests are a very natural expression against the remnants of colonialism which persist in the country’s universities. They become aware of this and demand and fight for decolonisation,” visiting American Professor Nelson Maldonado-Torres said at Unisa on Wednesday.
The researcher and lecturer said colonialism remained too entrenched in the universities and students, who had one foot in the real world and the other in the universities would not accept it.
Professors and lecturers had become a part of those systems which perpetuated the phenomenon created by colonialism. They taught it and imparted it to students every day, he added.
They became rigid as they progressed in their academic life, and they lectured in a way that did not seek to tell the truth and therefore bring about an understanding of the processes of colonialism, he said.
Maldonado-Torres is an international decolonial thinker and theorist and is on a three-month visit to Unisa.
He is in the country for the third time. He is being hosted by the institution’s department of political science in the college of human sciences.
Maldonado-Torres will be mentoring and lecturing doctoral students while conducting research and finishing off work on two books.
Universities had a responsibility to effect change, he said.
Lecturers spent their days lecturing young minds every day and they conducted research and produced academic papers which would influence the thinking of those who read them.
“Universities have been slow in changing and decolonising and so the students have taken it upon themselves to bring change,” Maldonado-Torres said.
The learning institutions still held the flag of superiority which came with colonialism.
One telling sign of the existence of colonialism was that while South Africa had a high black majority, university professors remained predominantly white.”Black students enter university and find this, and it is what represents colonial power.”
The colonial and racial system had been very brutal on South Africans, and things had to chance.
Among these changes needed, he said, was a sophisticated system of education which brought about the understanding required for change to come: “Once understood these issues can be better addressed,” the professor said.
Maldonado-Torres’s programme with Unisa was geared towards addressing the problem and bringing about a better understanding of the very complex issue through the lecture room.
But the information sharing had to go beyond the lecture rooms and into the communities, into the political sphere and into cultural centres, the media and schools, he said.
Everyone had a role to play, including politicians and university lecturers. ”If they understood their role they would be out there marching with the students, not for votes but to help usher in the desired changes,” he said.
Maldondo-Torres will be hosting a series of free lectures at Unisa every week until March when he leaves. The topics on the agenda include blackness, colonisation and decolonisation.