In defence of decolonial education
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A few weeks ago, South Africa's social media and mainstream media platforms constructed a social outrage over remarks by Dr Lwazi Lushaba, a decolonial lecturer at the UCT.
Whilst the outrage was defined by the typical factional and racist defined narratives, its silver lining is the fact that it brought to public discourse the political studies curricula and knowledge intercourse that is regrettably hidden behind high and inaccessible university walls.
At the centre of this discourse must be the now rising and sound concepts of coloniality and decoloniality, which must shape and guide virtually all aspects of knowledge systems across faculties all over the world.
While coloniality and decoloniality sound and appear like colonisation and decolonisation, they are not the same. Colonisation happened through violent take-over of territories and people, their subjugation to colonial violence, destruction of their knowledge system, land dispossession and imposition of new forms of societal, economic and political control.
In the African continent, colonisation was used as an instrument of destruction and theft of earlier forms of African civilisation and knowledge systems. Large parts of Africa were coerced into new religions, languages, mannerisms, means of survival, and sub-cultures which, although presented as superior alternatives to human existence and subsistence, were nothing but forms of colonial violence.
The struggle against colonisation was, therefore, political and whose aim was to overthrow colonial political control with the hope that such will decolonise the entirety of the system and place the African continent on the same developmental path as Western industrialised countries.
As a result, the struggle against colonialism was reduced to taking over political power leaving the instruments, values, and systems of colonialism intact. It is these instruments, values, and systems that underpin the economic, cultural, and social character of African countries and describe the coloniality that continues to define the lives and existence of colonised people.
Meaning that despite the end of colonialism, the colonised people in the world continue to live in a state of coloniality and epistemic violence. Epistemic violence refers to the fact that the dominant knowledge, prescribed and taught history, economics, sociology, medicine, etc. and analyses are European, mostly racist narratives that are force-fed to students.
The history of Africa in different curricula all over the world, even in so-called leading universities is presented as either the history of white people in Africa or not taught at all.
Nelson Maldanado Torres correctly illustrates that “colonialism denotes a political and economic relation in which the sovereignty of a nation or a people rests on the power of another nation, which makes such a nation an empire”.
“Coloniality, instead, refers to long-standing patterns of power that emerged because of colonialism, but that define culture, labour, intersubjectivity relations, and knowledge production well beyond the strict limits of colonial administrations. Thus, coloniality survives colonialism.
“It is maintained alive in books, in the criteria for academic performance, in cultural patterns, in common sense, in the self-image of peoples, in aspirations of self, and so many other aspects of our modern experience. In a way, as modern subjects, we breathe coloniality all the time and every day.”
What this entails therefore is that while colonialism has ended, coloniality is still our lived reality as black people in the colonised world and everywhere in the world. Our conception and perception of human progress and development continue to be viewed through the prism of coloniality.
Our progress and development continue to be measured on how well we speak the colonial languages and how well we have adapted to colonial and mostly white systems and mannerisms.
Black people all over the world are coerced into viewing progress on how well we adapted to the former colonisers’ ways and systems of doing things, and colonisers do very little to maintain coloniality as it has become a way of life.
In the context of coloniality defining and shaping all manifestations of life – including our attire, language, religion, architecture, mannerisms, and aspirations – it is universities, the curriculum content of institutions in the colonised world that continue to reproduce coloniality as the only form of understanding and appreciating history, the present and the future.
Our social systems, the way we organise society, and the economy almost always seek to emulate the former colonisers. For instance, it is false that the African continent was underdeveloped before colonial invasions, hence the colonial system forced all people it invaded into slavery, colonial taxation, and waged labour, even without an interrogation of development and underdevelopment dichotomy.
It is evident now that decolonisation did not end coloniality and has instead been used to entrench, sustain and consolidate coloniality. It is on this basis that part of the struggles of the generation we live in should include the uncompromising and decisive intention to achieve decoloniality in all aspects of life.
Knowledge systems, their truthfulness and validity, should therefore reflect the fact that we no longer believe that the remains and dominant master narratives of coloniality are false and fall into the category of epistemological violence, when epistemology is understood as the theory of knowledge, especially regarding its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion.
There is therefore nothing wrong when decolonial lecturers such as Dr Lushaba illustrate and demonstrate the simple fact that colonial historicisation and narratives underestimate and undervalue the violence unleashed against black people in the African continent, yet attach social scientific analyses and significance to the violence unleashed on Jews by Adolf Hitler.
What Lushaba was correctly illustrating is that even in coded and taught history and broader epistemology, black lives did not matter. Many black people were massacred in different parts of the world, including Belgium’s king Leopold II massacre of more than 10 million Africans in the Congo. Virtually all colonial invasions, which were misnamed “discoveries” were defined by the genocidal atrocities and massacres against indigenous people.
This was evidently inspired by the fact that all colonial European invaders refused to accept that black people are self-conscious, innovative, creative, and reflective human beings and coloniality continues on that path.
Decolonial education should therefore begin with a correct narration of history and proper application of indigenous knowledge systems, including in areas such as astronomy, medicine, governance and development.
This should be so with a correct admission that before colonisation there existed valid and superior understandings of astronomy, medicine, governance and development.
Decolonial education should therefore be at the centre of African universities because what we have in the African continent are colonial universities which almost exclusively teach the distorted history of white people in the African continent and nothing about the history, nature, and knowledge systems of the African continent itself.
The reality is that we have universities in Africa, but we do not have African universities.
Decolonial education and decoloniality do not entail pre-coloniality. Decoloniality should rescue useful and valid African knowledge systems and combine it with the knowledge that has been gained through scientific and balanced observation, critically proven and found to be true beyond any reasonable doubt.
Kwame Nkrumah was correct in observing that, “all available evidence from the history of Africa up to the eve of the European colonisation, shows that African society was neither classless nor devoid of a social hierarchy”.
“Feudalism existed in some parts of Africa before colonisation; and feudalism involves a deep and exploitative social stratification, founded on the ownership of land.”
Importantly, Nkrumah says “the basic organisation of many African societies in different periods of history manifested certain communalism and that the philosophy and humanist purposes behind that organisation are worthy of recapture. A community in which each saw his well-being in the welfare of the group certainly was praiseworthy, even if the manner in which the well-being of the group was pursued makes no contribution to our purposes”.
The direction, henceforth, should be building decolonial African universities and shaping balanced decolonial curricula and knowledge systems.
The struggle for fee-free decolonial education should continue and this should not be limited to the privileged few, but the entirety of our people.
* Floyd Shivambu is EFF Deputy President.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.