At the launch of the Thabo Mbeki African School of Public and International Affairs at Unisa recently, Mbeki again echoed his 2017 speech, underscoring the need for the continued development of Africa. Picture: Doug Kanter/AP)
At the launch of the Thabo Mbeki African School of Public and International Affairs at Unisa recently, Mbeki again echoed his 2017 speech, underscoring the need for the continued development of Africa. Picture: Doug Kanter/AP)

OPINION: Thabo Mbeki School is what’s needed for a pan Africanist future

By Time of article published Sep 27, 2020

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By Vuyisile Masila

In his inaugural address as a chancellor of Unisa in 2017, Thabo Mbeki underscored the need for society to continue examining the nearness between the society and higher education institutions.

He also pointed out that society needs to be clear about its expectations from higher education institutions.

Mbeki also raised the potential of the university in uplifting citizens to avert the injustices of the past. He perceived the university as one of the sites for African renaissance that would be able to rekindle the ideas around gender imbalance, highlight community involvement and enhance creative thinking.

Furthermore, Mbeki argued that university ought to be a cauldron of debate and fair critical engagement.

At the launch of the Thabo Mbeki African School of Public and International Affairs (TM-School) at Unisa recently, Mbeki again echoed his 2017 speech, underscoring the need for the continued development of Africa.

He harangued education and university programmes that created corporate stooges out of students. The former president also highlighted a new culture needed by all African institutions that seek to transform themselves to be able to transmute society.

Generally, there are a myriad university cultures that need to be exorcised from the current universities in Africa. These include what the president referred to as research that is not relevant to communities but more driven by personal glory and status, rather than the sustenance of a nation through knowledge generation. Additionally, as Mbeki stated in his inaugural speech as Unisa Chancellor, he reiterated the need for teaching that should bear doers and critical learners, stressing the role of the university in upholding the African philosophical enquiry as it becomes a thought centre of society.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges that our universities are experiencing today is to embrace a paradigm shift, garner knowledge for relevant scholarship and enhance a pan African future and rigorous intellectuals”.

There can be no culture of engagement if scholarship remains poor. And without strong scholarship, research will be unaccountable to society and be worthless. Yet new and relevant knowledge is always critical when we look at academia and profound scholarship.

The president also pointed out that there is a need also to uplift teaching than exclusively focusing on publishing, adding that effective teaching was the cornerstone for achieving a just society.

It is through effective teaching that universities can produce future thinkers with grounded philosophical thoughts.

Decolonial scholars also sympathise with the need for a pan Africanist future and pan Africanist education in an age of decolonisation.

TM-School director Prof Sibusiso Vil-Nkomo’s opening comments are true as he pointed out that this initiative was long overdue. This is a dream school for pan African thought and pan Africanism encapsulated in programmes such as resource management, management of rural development as well as futuristic studies.

The pan Africanist thought enables us to debate the future of African knowledge and fecund African scholarship. Yet even that, pan Africanist thought has had much contention, like scholars who have rebuked the academic Ali Mazrui for labelling the great pan Africanist Kwame Nkrumah an African Lenin and a Russian Tsar in Africa.

Even more scholars have labelled Mazrui as using Eurocentric than Afrocentric conclusions. However, for similar reasons, the Nigerian critic and august scholar Chinweizu has also opposed Nkrumah’s agenda and pan Africanist thought. Despite such differences though, Nkrumah’s name is mentioned along the forerunners of pan Africanism in the 1960s as he continuously preached African nationalism – so were his contemporaries such as Julius Nyerere and Patrice Emery Lumumba of Congo.

All perceived the hope in pan Africanism. They regarded pan Africanism as a starting point for African unity. Nyerere saw his generation as the harbingers for change. He believed that they carried the torch of African liberation and that the new leaders “must pick up the flickering torch of African freedom, refuel it with their enthusiasm and determination, and carry it forward to unity”.

One hopes these ideals would be cherished by the new Thabo Mbeki school at Unisa. The hope of national development linked with the school has also brought hope to those who continue clamouring for decolonised institutions.

The TM-School also fills the void of Centres of Excellence in Africa.

So well positioned, this is because it could address unemployment, poverty and skills shortage. The civil society still suffers from the paucity of skills in economic development, human rights and challenges emitted by urbanisation.

The move for relevance and commitment of such a school can undermine the ivory tower image of any university. The Thabo Mbeki School appears set to work towards the national development goals and one also hopes that research conducted will include indigenous research that would bestow a voice to the researched.

Educational advancement within a university needs to be aligned with the needs of surrounding communities. The latter is the necessary institutional isomorphism scientists talk about.

The Centres of Excellence in Africa should demystify knowledge production and this should reflect the communities’ beliefs, histories and knowledges. Furthermore, such Centres should reinter Africa within universities as we all continue to unpack the meanings of concepts such as indigenisation, Africanisation and decolonisation.

The project of decolonisation may be floundering in many institutions of higher learning due to the absence of intent leadership. The idea of the university needs constant examination and disruption linked to transformation.

Directed schools such as TM-School should enable role-players to reclaim the university as they bring new identities and new ecological modes. The birth of the school has come with such mandates and with the able leadership, Unisa would be able to reap the imagined rewards.

The school has come with hopes to continue building the envisaged university in South Africa. In fact, we should hope the school will be amongst the enablers that pave way for the African renaissance that the former president so eloquently articulated.

Similar schools should support the call for Africa’s renewal and call to new positive cultures that would transform our higher education institutions. Future institutions should bring the necessary interference to alter ingrained cultures. Mbeki in his book, Africa: The Time Has Come, speaks of the need for a rebellion where we rebel against tyrants, and those who seek to steal wealth that belongs to the people.

Furthermore, he says we must rebel against criminals who murder and declare war against poverty and ignorance of the children of Africa. We hope this kind of philosophy will seep through the school named after him.

We also hope that this school will be able to plough the ecology of cultures needed from a dynamic institution.

The Unisa community and the society believes that the arrival of the Thabo Mbeki School brings more rigour to the debates of the formation of new cultures fit for the envisaged South African university.

Vuyisile Masila works at Unisa. He writes in his personal capacity.

Sunday Independent

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