keep reading this review here: http://constitutionallyspeaking.co.za/at-the-venice-biennale-an-ugly-condescending-scream-on-the-wall/
May 21, 2015
May 20, 2015
By Maakomele R. Manaka (the title is a line borrowed from Lesego Rampolokeng’s poem.)
“One good thing about music when it hits, you feel no pain.” Bob Marley’s statement summarizes the epitome of ‘Nyilo Nyilo: A vocal museum’, Masello Motana’s ingenious live performanceor rather a call to the redefinition of memory through music, at one of Johannesburg’s foregrounds for culture, the Afrikan Freedom Station.
Growing up in the township, music was an integral part of our lives. And because we lived so close to each other, every Sunday morning, music from every home would find its way through the congestion, filling the street with a kaleidoscope of sounds, from gospel,jazz, RnB, kwaito, to the loud Zionist church choir in a school across the street from my house, all at the same time. And even in the games we played as children, the presence of music was consistent. In many ways those rhythms from our homes, shops, tavens and our games, created a strong sense of belonging, feeling like you were part of something bigger than yourself, part of a community.
Through coming from the past and looking back at the future, the present is indeed ‘a dangerous place to live’.
And with all the PS4’s, DSTV‘s, MP3’s, the influx of drugs and the reckless public drinking, the congested spaces have become even more congested. The music in our languages seem to lose their flavors because many of us have forgotten how to listen, and have become spoiled couch potatoes and self-absorbed iPod junkies.
I suppose protecting oneself from this unpleasant present, ‘memory is the weapon’.
And just when I thought this decomposing present was becoming defenseless, a non-conforming radical voice of a hummingbird, Masello Motana restored the primary colors of our memory through melody.
Before the songbird led us through a musical journey, she began to unchain our minds from today’s socioeconomic political debris, exposing the importance of music in the shaping of a people’s culture and the fragility of its memory. She called one of her friends up to make a very poignant point about how interwoven music has always been by playing a game, many of us sang along, “By so, by love you baby….”. At that moment, our culture church, the Afrikan Freedom Station had been transformed into a playground and as the hummingbird stripped off all our adult tensions and masks, we all became children. Singing along to familiar tunes we used to play to.
And just after introducing the instruments of melody, like a rapid rattle of a rifle, she and the wielders of rhythm shot through time and space with their first song, “Ntyilo Ntyilo” Written by Aalan Silinga, and popularized by Mariam Makeba. Over the years there have been many different versions, though for me personally, Johnny Dyani’s version takes the prize. A Xhosa song about a little bird singing a beautiful melody of wanting to break free, Motana could not have been more in tune with the times in choosing the song to kick start the prayer because in a way many of us feel like that “Nyitlo ntyilo” longing to be free from the present and its lies. She delivered the song with a strong upright voice, driven by an emotional trombone over a melancholic baseline. The marriage between her and the music evoked those little birds inside each of us that are dying to be heard.
True to her name, Masello mothered our cries of longing to be reconnected to our long lost forgotten true history of our cultures. Her vocal museum is more than just a singer with a band in front of an audience she is an historian with a band of librarians telling our untold story of this land through music.
“When music hits you feel no pain”. What happens when music is painful?
When she began to sing “Thina sizwe”, it started to drizzle almost as if the ancient ones of this soil were in agreement with her, and us all. The pianist with a soft yet angry underlining tone in his keys carried with it a people’s plight that stretches over a century. Her ability to control the high and low pitches of her voiceover a wailing piano, accentuated the cry: “Mabayeke umhlaba wethu”.
On a table that fills with white supremacy and inequality, the message in “Thina Sizwe” could not be more relevant.
The vanguard hummingbird kept flying backwards, singing us through her thesis of the country’s historic musical landscape. Articulating the present’s condition through a dub version of Winston Mankunku’s “Yakhalinkomo”. The bewitching trombone and the rhythmguitar together with the drums along side a very punchy baseline uplifted the passion in her voice when she bellowed, “khaba le nja”. And as if she was not in the rhythm of relevance already, she and her band of librarians took us through an almost forgotten chapter of Strike Vilakazi’s “Meadowlands” reminding us of the forced removals that took place around the area where the Afrikan Freedom Station is situated.
We moved through the pages of music, and creating a nostalgic time capsule. Journeying through the spirit from Brenda Fassie to Lebo Mathosa and to the distinctive sound of Durban’s house music. Though the genius was in the taste of a very eclectic pudding, as she fused John Coltrane’s ‘Love Supreme’ baseline with lyrics from Professor’s popular song “Jezebel”, and bluesing up one of Boom Shaka’s hit tracks of the 90’s “FREE”.
The lyrics of “FREE”, written by Thembi Seete, express what many of us along with Masello still feel like today 20 years into the new South Africa, “I wanna be free from the chains that are binding me”.
After her last song, we all screamed for ‘one more’, and like fertile soil she humbly gave us one last song. Then she walked off stage like a slender sa ma catalogue on the runway, as we cheeredand stood up to honor her vocal museum meanwhile the band continued to play. We sat outside in the presence of memory covered in cigarette smoke and a cloud of nostalgia, recalling our childhood days and the music that shaped many of us.
Though amidst all the the exciting nostalgia in the presence of memory, the poet in me could not help but feel a hint of sadness creeping from the pavements, that even after such a memorable journey of the spirit we remain a dispossessed and a disconnected people.
And as the poetic statesman once said when restoring the archives of ancient scrolls in Timbuktu, “A people without a knowledge of self, is a people without a sense of direction”.
Masello Motana is without doubt, one of the strongest most candid voices of our generation, and it is with great faith that I pray we not only dance shout and marvel at her genius though rather we actualize her cause: To equip ourselves with the necessary tool that Mattera calls a weapon so we can begin to reclaim the land and rewrit eour true story. Because, many of the congested spaces we call home are overflooding with substances, institutions and systems that teach our children how to forget.
And so it is through memory that we can begin the struggle of reconnecting with the music in our indigenous languages, and Masello’s “vocal museum” is one of the true testaments to that possibility.
“Our true history is before us, for we have yet to build, to create, to achieve. Our very oppression is the flower of opportunity”- Can Themba
May 18, 2015
For these reasons, the emerging consensus is that our institutions must undergo a process of decolonization both of knowledge and of the university as an institution. The task before us is to give content to this call – which requires that we be clear about what we are talking about.
(This post is informed by two documents: the paper delivered by Achille Mbembe at Stellenbosch University on 30 April 2015, and a ‘work in progress’ article by George King, as well as discussion of these documents at a meeting of the MusicSymposiumSA on 14 May 2015. Both documents are available on request).
Something is brewing at our universities. Students are defacing statues; they are staging silent protests; they are staging loud protests; they are handing over memorandums. The students are raising their voices. And it is high time.
One might ask, why now? Have learners at our institutions of higher learning suddenly become disenchanted with the status quo, or have these discontents been simmering for the past twenty-one years? Is there something particular about the present historical moment that facilitates or enables these instances of dissent?
I don’t have an answer to these questions, nor do I want to try to engage with them in general. This blog deals specifically with music in South Africa, and this post with music education at South African tertiary institutions. And what is true, I believe, is that the present historical moment presents us with an opportunity: to answer the appeal articulated so well by Achille Mbembe, to ‘give content’ to the call for transformation and change at our institutions of higher learning.
It is perhaps inevitable that the first post on this blog will be a contentious one, dealing as it does with issues of music teaching practice at South African universities. We are, however, admittedly living in interesting times, and these issues need exploring. The ideas put forward here are ‘unfinished’, and this post does not attempt to present a single thesis or viewpoint. I welcome engagement with all the points made here.
Three assumptions inform this post. One: curricula, approaches to teaching and course content at music departments in our universities are in serious need of transformation. Two: such transformation is being actively resisted by members of music departments at our universities. Three: there are ideological reasons for this protection of the status quo.
Dissenting voices from within South African music academe have been present for a while. George King mentions that, already in 1983, Chris Ballantine from the University of KwaZulu Natal (University of Natal back then) raised a number of issues relating to what he saw as the future for music studies in South Africa. In a paper presentation at the Fourth Symposium on Ethnomusicology, Ballantine proposed that music departments in South Africa respond to the radical and progressive restructuring of South African society by asking the question: ‘how could we orientate ourselves academically, how would we find our bearing, if we should decide to align ourselves with the progressive movements for social change in the 80s?’
More than twenty years on, Ballantine’s call for academic re-orientation, for a shift in paradigm at South African music departments, does not appear to have resulted in the kind of debate, transformation or change he had envisioned. His own department was one of the very few to implement significant curriculum changes before the 1990s; during the past twenty or thirty years, most music departments have been resistant to curriculum changes that would shift the focus from Western Art Music to include popular and indigenous musics within their BMus offerings. Although most departments now do include jazz, indigenous and popular music in their courses, the emphasis remains in most cases on Western Art Music. Traditional Western music theory based on the so-called ‘common practice’ period dominates music theory curricula, with little or no space for alternative approaches (and in spite of the fact that this kind of common practice theory has little or no bearing on composition, performance and music-making practices carried out by most South Africans today). ‘Music history’ deals, in most cases, with the history of Western art music, and few attempts are made to discover and include alternative ‘histories’ of music, particularly histories from our own continent and country, in the curriculum. Africa is not a-historical, nor is its music history something which should be relegated to the realm of ‘ethnomusicology’ or ‘cultural studies’ alone – it has a history that simply has not yet been actively researched and articulated.
Why is there such active resistance to transformation and change in our music departments? Why is there such active investment in the protection of a monoculture that favours Western art music above all other musics? Different scholars have suggested possible answers to this question; it is certainly too big a question to attempt to answer in this space. My doctoral dissertation offers some possibilities; it can be viewed here http://scholar.sun.ac.za/handle/10019.1/71885
Mbembe argues that universities tend to view knowledge as separated from the knower: the idea that knowledge can not only be taught from the top down, but generated by those actively involved in the knowledge project, seems anathema to many university lecturers. If we could manage to make a paradigm shift in this regard, and search for ways to provide students with tools for learning rather than just information, we might go a long way towards evening out the power imbalances that exist at our institutions.
How could this be done? In music, a holistic approach where academic and practical work is seen as integrated, mutually informative and equally significant parts of the education process could yield much. This could mean that, for example, a piano student would learn about composition techniques by interrogating the techniques present in the works she is performing: Messaien’s approach to rhythm ceases to be an abstract concept, and becomes something the pianist is intimately acquainted with. Or: the same piano student, after being exposed to Zimbabwean mbira music in an ethnomusicology seminar, experiments with improvisations on the piano incorporating similar scales and rhythmic patterns. Same pianist searches for ways to use performance to interrogate social issues such as accessibility to concert performances, by staging performances outside of the traditional concert hall. There are many possibilities; what these three examples have in common is the notion that learning can happen ‘from the ground up’, through discovery and experimentation, and that knowledge does not necessarily have to be delivered ‘from the top down’.
Such holism could further enable also a bridging of the typical juxtaposition of ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ approaches to music, allowing music students to be (in the words of Sol Plaatje) both ‘global actors and local citizens’. The hierarchy between ‘Western art music’ and ‘the rest’s music’ must be broken down – on a level playing field, engagement with all musics becomes possible. It is time to move out of the strictures of inherited practices and approaches, and into a space of experimentation: is it more important for a music student to know the correct way to notate a chord progression on a music stave? Or perhaps rather to be enabled to compose a piece of music, using improvisation, electronic resources, found objects or (and) musical instruments? An experimental space allows for new ideas, new ways of knowing to be constructed, rather than existing knowledges to be simply transferred or delivered, ready-made.
Students at South African universities are insisting on change. As role-players in music academe and the music world at large, we have the opportunity to take up this call for transformation and change, for their sake as well as ours. We cannot afford to miss such an opportunity again.
(Mareli Stolp, 15 May 2015).
May 17, 2015
At the age of 21, Sophie Scholl was executed by the People’s Court in Germany on Feb. 22, 1943, during the Holocaust, for her involvement in The White Rose, an organization that was secretly writing pamphlets calling for the end of the war and strongly denouncing the inhuman acts of the Nazis.
In May, 1942 German troops were on the battlefields of Russia and North Africa, while students at the University of Munich attended salons sharing their love of medicine, Theology, and philosophy and their aversion to the Nazi regime. Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, and Sophie Scholl were at the center of this group of friends.
Attending the same university were two medical students, Willi Graf and Jurgen Wittgenstein, who had served in a military hospital in 1939, with Hans, Sophie’s older brother. Along with Christoph Probst, a married soldier and father of three, they eventually joined The White Rose.
Sophie Scholl was born on May 9, 1921, in Forchtenberg am Kocher, where her father Robert Scholl, was mayor. At 12 Sophie joined the Hitler Youth, but became disillusioned. The arrest of her father for referring to Hitler as ”God’s Scourge,” to an employee, left a strong impression on her.
To the Scholl family loyalty meant obeying the dictates of the heart. ”What I want for you is to live in uprightness and freedom of spirit, no matter how difficult that proves to be,” her father told the family.
When the mass deportation of Jews began in 1942, Sophie, Hans, Alexander and Jurgen realized it was time for action. They bought a typewriter and a duplicating machine and Hans and Alex wrote the first leaflet with the heading: Leaflets of The White Rose, which said:
”Nothing is so unworthy of a nation as allowing itself to be governed without opposition by a clique that has yielded to base instinct…Western civilization must defend itself against fascism and offer passive resistance, before the nation’s last young man has given his blood on some battlefield.”
Members of The White Rose worked day and night in secrecy, producing thousands of leaflets, mailed from undetectable locations in Germany, to scholars and medics. Sophie bought stamps and paper at different places, to divert attention from their activities.
In 1933 Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany. Many Germans who were uncomfortable with the anti-Semitic ranting of the Nazi party, appreciated Hitler’s ability to bolster pride in a shamed nation.
The second White Rose leaflet stated: ”Since the conquest of Poland 300,000 Jews have been murdered, a crime against human dignity…Germans encourage fascist criminals if no chord within them cries out at the sight of such deeds. An end in terror is preferable to terror without end.”
Sophie’s brother Hans spent two years in the military, studied medicine at the University of Munich, and was a medic at the Eastern front with Alex, Willi and Jurgen in 1942.
Jurgen transported stacks of pamphlets to Berlin. The journey was dangerous, ”Trains were crawling with military police. If you were a civilian and couldn’t prove you’d been deferred, you were taken away immediately,” he recalled.
No one in the United States can comprehend what it is to live under absolute dictatorship. The party controlled the news media, police, armed forces, judiciary system, communications, education, cultural and religious institutions.
The third leaflet demanded: ”Sabotage in armament plants, newspapers, public ceremonies, and of the National Socialist Party…Convince the lower classes of the senselessness of continuing the war; where we face spiritual enslavement at the hands of National Socialists.”
The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 had demanded expulsion of anyone who was not Aryan, declaring Jews as non-citizens. The international press had begun to report beatings in the streets, so Hitler moved the arena of cruelty away from cities to concentration camps.
On November 9, 1938, 30,000 Jews were beaten and arrested, and Storm Troops burned 191 synagogues on Kristallnacht, ”the night for the broken windows,” causing 200,000 Jews to flee to the countryside.
When Alexander Schmorell was asked to swear an oath to Hitler, he asked to be discharged from the army. Willi Graf turned to passive resistance like the rest, after serving as a medical orderly in Yugoslavia. He was assigned to the Second Student’s Company in Munich, where he met Sophie, Hans, Alexander, Christoph, and Jurgen.
Christoph Probst was the only member of the White Rose who was married with children, so the others tried to protect him. In the fourth leaflet they wrote: ”I ask you as a Christian whether you hesitate in hope that someone else will raise his arm in your defense?…For Hitler and his followers no punishment is commensurate with their crimes.”
After the German defeat at Stalingrad, in 1943, and Roosevelt’s demand for unconditional surrender for the Axis powers, an Allied invasion was weeks away. That night, Hans, Willi, and Alex painted ”Freedom” and ”Down with Hitler,” and drew crossed-out swastikas on buildings in Munich.
Their philosophy professor, Kurt Huber, was shocked when he learned of the state-organized atrocities committed in Germany, and he worked on the final White Rose leaflets. He was also motivated to lecture on forbidden subjects, such as the writings of the Jewish philosopher Spinoza.
Each leaflet was more critical of Hitler and the German people than the last. The fifth mentioned: ”Hitler is leading the German people into the abyss. Blindly they follow their seducers into ruin…Are we to be forever a nation which is hated and rejected by all mankind?.”
The Gestapo had been looking for the pamphlets’ authors as soon as the first ones appeared. As the language in the leaflets became more inflammatory they stepped up their efforts. They arrested people at the slightest hint of suspicion.
Sophie and Hans brought a suitcase of the final leaflets, written by Professor Huber, to the University, and left them in corridors for the students to discover and read.
Jakob Schmidt, University handyman and Nazi party member, saw Hans and Sophie with the leaflets and reported them. They were taken into Gestapo custody. Sophie’s ‘interrogation’ was so cruel, she appeared in court with a broken leg.
On Feb 22, 1943, Sophie, Hans and Christoph were condemned to death by the ‘People’s’ Court, which had been created by the National Socialist Party to eliminate Hitler’s enemies.
Hans Scholl’s last words shouted from the guillotine were, ”Long live freedom!” In an unprecedented action by the guards, Christoph Probst was allowed a few moments alone with Hans and Sophie before they went to their deaths. After months of Gestapo interrogations to obtain the names of his co-conspirators, Willi was executed. His final thoughts were: ”They shall continue what we have begun.”
Alexander Schmorell was arrested in an air raid shelter and executed at Munich Stadelheim. Kurt Huber became one of the defendants at the trial of the People’s Court against the White Rose. Survivors remember Huber’s last words, an affirmation of humaneness.
Jurgen Wittenstein was interrogated by the Gestapo, but they couldn’t prove his involvement so they let him go. He got himself transferred to the front, beyond Nazi control and was the only one to survive. After the war, he relocated to the United States, became a doctor and received an award from the Government of West Germany for his bravery.
”How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause,” Sophie said. ”Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go,” she continued, ”but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”
”The White Rose is a radiant page in the annals of the 20th Century. The courage to swim against the stream of public opinion, even when doing so was equated with treason, and the conviction that death is not too great a price to pay for following the whisperings of the conscience,” writes Chris Zimmerman in The White Rose: Its Legacy and Challenge.
Two hundred German schools are named for the Scholls, and politicians such as former New York Mayor David Dinkins invoke their names, and visit their graves. With the rise of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and violence against foreigners in Germany, the anniversary of the executions is a powerful reminder.
Sophie Scholls sister Inge Aicher-Scoll wrote: ”Perhaps genuine heroism lies in deciding to stubbornly defend the everyday things, the mundane and the immediate.”
Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, by Jud Newborn.
Oneworld Publlications, Oxford, 2006.
They Died to Defeat the Reich
by Gabriella Gruder-Poni
New York Times – June 12, 1993
A View From Within The White Rose
German Life – May 31, 1997
The Story of a Rose: The Remarkable Life of Sohie Scholl
by Elizabeth Applebaum
Baltimore Jewish Times – November 24, 1995
The White Rose: It’s Legacy and Challenge
By Chris Zimmerman
Rescuers – Germany during WWII
May 14, 2015
Q. You’re talking about root causes. Media don’t often address them. You want them to speak of Zionism as a root cause of this conflict. Why?
Two issues are very important. The easier one is to treat Zionism as we treated the apartheid ideology in South Africa, and to ask oneself, would we engage with apartheid in South Africa without engaging the ideology of the regime. Could we have focused on only the policies of the government and ignored the source of the policies? If you go back and look at when South Africa became a pariah state, if you look at the media, they were isolating South Africa by attacking the ideology of supremacy, exclusion, and apartheid.
What is very clear in this case is that the western media does not allow itself, maybe because of self-censorship, maybe because of pressure—it does not allow itself to do the same for Israel. Even the worst atrocity is taken out of its ideological context. When the journalist spans a narrative of why that atrocity happened, they describe it as an Israeli retaliation against Palestinian violence. You would have liked journalists to understand by now that Israel does not retaliate against Palestinians and create unbearable situations for them in anticipation of some reaction to the oppression – be it a house demolition, arrest without trial, confiscation of land and more often than not, assassination. Violence for Israel is not a retaliatory means of responding to Palestinian resistance, no, it is the principal means by which the Zionist vision of having as much of Palestine as possible, with as few Palestinians in it as possible, has been implemented over the years.
Perceptive journalists should detect the difference between destroying houses because they endanger the security of the soldiers, and destroying the houses as a way of reducing the number of Palestinians as part of a mega plan for the region. If you are dealing with an ideology, you have an obligation to see through the pretext and not copy the causal narrative that Israel provides.
read the full interview here: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/05/western-awakening-israelpalestine
Even though Arendt was not an observant Jew, that same kind of mindfulness stalks every page of Eichmann in Jerusalem. In the face of great evil, every choice matters, every decision counts. Had there been more men like Anton Schmid, a sergeant in the German Army who, Arendt writes, gave forged papers and trucks to Jewish partisans—and was executed for it—“how utterly different everything would be today.” To those who would say that such actions are “practically useless”—totalitarian regimes seek to eliminate not merely resistance but any recognition or memory of resistance—Arendt replies: “The holes of oblivion do not exist.” “One man,” she adds, with echoes of Sodom and Gomorrah, “will always be left alive to tell the story.” It’s true that “most people will comply” with tyranny, “but some people will not”—and in that zone of possibility, where an ethical minority chooses to act differently from the rest, stands a chosen people, not of descent but of dissent.
read the full article here: http://www.thenation.com/article/207217/trials-hannah-arendt
In the modern world, the most common mode of collaboration is work itself. Requiring the cooperation of millions, it extends across continents, and, with a few exceptions, everyone does it. That is why Arendt pays so much attention to Eichmann’s careerism, less as a personal motivation than as a structure of action. Genocide is a form of work: from the maids, cooks, and butlers who beautified the villa at Wannsee where plans for the Holocaust were finalized in January 1942, to the men who met there to finalize it. It is a job for which men and women get paid, promoted if they do it well. And it has its own murderous claims to monumentality: “What for Eichmann was a job,” Arendt wrote in Eichmann, “with its daily routine, its ups and downs, was for the Jews quite literally the end of the world.”
read the full article here: http://www.thenation.com/article/207217/trials-hannah-arendt
May 11, 2015
This document was deliberately written as a spoken text. It forms the basis of a series of public lectures given at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER), University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg), at conversations with the Rhodes Must Fall Movement at the University of Cape Town and the Indexing the Human Project, Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Stellenbosch. The nature of the events unfolding in South Africa, the type of audience that attended the lectures, the nature of the political and intellectual questions at stake required an entirely different mode of address – one that could speak both to reason and to affect.
Twenty one years after freedom, we have now fully entered what looks like a negative moment. This is a moment most African postcolonial societies have experienced. Like theirs in the late 1970s, 1980s and
1990s, ours is gray and almost murky. It lacks clarity.
Today many want to finally bring white supremacy to its knees. But the same seem to go missing when it comes to publically condemning the extra-judicial executions of fellow Africans on the streets of our cities and in our townships. As Fanon intimated, they see no contradiction between wanting to topple white supremacy and being anti-racist while succumbing to the sirens of isolationism and national-chauvinism.
Many still consider whites as “settlers” who, once in a while, will attempt to masquerade as “natives”. And yet, with the advent of democracy and the new constitutional State, there are no longer settlers or natives. There are only citizens. If we repudiate democracy, what will we replace it with?
Our white compatriots might be fencing off their privileges. They might be “enclaving” them and “off-shoring” them but they are certainly going nowhere.
And yet they cannot keep living in our midst with whiteness’ old clothes. Fencing off one’s privileges, off-shoring them, living in enclaves does not in itself secure full recognition and survival.
Meanwhile, “blackness” is fracturing. “Black consciousness” today is more and more thought of in fractions.
A negative moment is a moment when new antagonisms emerge while old ones remain unresolved.
It is a moment when contradictory forces – inchoate, fractured, fragmented – are at work but what might come out of their interaction is anything but certain.
It is also a moment when multiple old and recent unresolved crises seem to be on the path towards a collision.
Such a collision might happen – or maybe not. It might take the form of outbursts that end up petering out. Whether the collision actually happens or not, the age of innocence and complacency is over.
When it comes to questions concerning the decolonization of the university – and of knowledge – in South Africa now, there are a number of clear-cut political and moral issues – which are also issues of fairness and decency – many of us can easily agree upon.
One such issue has just been dealt with – and successfully – at the
University of Cape Town.
To those who are still in denial, it might be worth reiterating that Cecil Rhodes belonged to the race of men who were convinced that to be black is a liability.
During his time and life in Southern Africa, he used his considerable power – political and financial – to make black people all over Southern Africa pay a bloody price for his beliefs.
His statue – and those of countless others who shared the same conviction – has nothing to do on a public university campus 20 years after freedom.
The debate therefore should have never been about whether or not it should be brought down. All along, the debate should have been about why did it take so long to do so.
To bring Rhodes’ statue down is far from erasing history, and nobody should be asking us to be eternally indebted to Rhodes for having “donated” his money and for having bequeathed “his” land to the University. If anything, we should be asking how did he acquire the land in the first instance.
Arguably other options were available and could have been considered, including that which was put forward late in the process by retired Judge Albie Sachs whose contribution to the symbolic remaking of what is today Constitution Hill is well recognized.
But bringing Rhodes’ statue down is one of the many legitimate ways in which we can, today in South Africa, demythologize that history and put it to rest – which is precisely the work memory properly understood is supposed to accomplish.
For memory to fulfill this function long after the Truth and Reconciliation paradigm has run out of steam, the demythologizing of certain versions of history must go hand in hand with the demythologizing of whiteness.
This is not because whiteness is the same as history. Human history, by definition, is history beyond whiteness.
Human history is about the future. Whiteness is about entrapment. Whiteness is at its best when it turns into a myth. It is the most corrosive
and the most lethal when it makes us believe that it is everywhere; that
everything originates from it and it has no outside.
We are therefore calling for the demythologization of whiteness because democracy in South Africa will either be built on the ruins of those versions of whiteness that produced Rhodes or it will fail.
In other words, those versions of whiteness that produced men like Rhodes must be recalled and de-commissioned if we have to put history to rest, free ourselves from our own entrapment in white mythologies and open a future for all here and now.
It might then be that the statue of Rhodes and the statues of countless men of his ilk that are littering the South African landscape properly belong to a museum – an institution that, with few exceptions, has hardly been subjected to the kind of thorough critique required by these times of ours in South Africa.
Yet, a museum properly understood is not a dumping place. It is not a place where we recycle history’s waste. It is first and foremost an epistemic space.
A stronger option would therefore be the creation of a new kind of institution, partly a park and partly a graveyard, where statues of people who spent most of their lives defacing everything the name “black” stood for would be put to rest. Putting them to rest in those new places would in turn allow us to move on and recreate the kind of new public spaces required by our new democratic project.
Architecture, public spaces and the common
Now, many may ask: “What does bringing down the statue of a late 19th century privateer has to do with decolonizing a 21st century university?” Or, as many have in fact been asking: “Why are we so addicted to the past”?
Are we simply, as Ferial Haffajee, the editor of the weekly City Press argues, fighting over the past because of our inability to build a future which, in her eyes, is mostly about each of us turning into an entrepreneur, making lots of money and becoming a good consumer?
Is this the only future left to aspire to – one in which every human being becomes a market actor; every field of activity is seen as a market; every entity (whether public or private, whether person, business, state or corporation) is governed as a firm; people themselves are cast as human capital and are subjected to market metrics (ratings, rankings) and their value is determined speculatively in a futures market?
Decolonizing the university starts with the de-privatization and rehabilitation of the public space – the rearrangement of spatial relations Fanon spoke so eloquently about in the first chapter of The Wretched of the Earth.
It starts with a redefinition of what is public, i.e., what pertains to the realm of the common and as such, does not belong to anyone in particular because it must be equally shared between equals.
The decolonization of buildings and of public spaces is therefore not a frivolous issue, especially in a country that, for many centuries, has defined itself as not of Africa, but as an outpost of European imperialism in the Dark Continent; and in which 70% of the land is still firmly in the hands of 13% of the population.
The decolonization of buildings and of public spaces is inseparable from the democratization of access.
When we say access, we are naturally thinking about a wide opening of the doors of higher learning to all South Africans. For this to happen, SA must invest in its universities. For the time being, it spends 0.6% of its GDP on higher education. The percentage of the national wealth invested in higher education must be increased.
But when we say access, we are also talking about the creation of those conditions that will allow black staff and students to say of the university: “This is my home. I am not an outsider here. I do not have to beg or to apologize to be here. I belong here”.
Such a right to belong, such a rightful sense of ownership has nothing to do with charity or hospitality.
It has nothing to do with the liberal notion of ‘tolerance’.
It has nothing to do with me having to assimilate into a culture that is not mine as a precondition of my participating in the public life of the institution.
It has all to do with ownership of a space that is a public, common good.
It has to do with an expansive sense of citizenship itself indispensable for the project of democracy, which itself means nothing without a deep commitment to some idea of public-ness.
Furthermore – especially for black staff and students – it has to do with creating a set of mental dispositions. We need to reconcile a logic of indictment and a logic of self-affirmation, interruption and occupation.
This requires the conscious constitution of a substantial amount of mental capital and the development of a set of pedagogies we should call pedagogies of presence.
Black students and staff have to invent a set of creative practices that ultimately make it impossible for official structures to ignore them and not recognize them, to pretend that they are not there; to pretend that they do not see them; or to pretend that their voice does not count.
The decolonization of buildings and public spaces includes a change of those colonial names, iconography, ie., the economy of symbols whose function, all along, has been to induce and normalize particular states of humiliation based on white supremacist presuppositions.
Such names, images and symbols have nothing to do on the walls of a public university campus more than 20 years after Apartheid.
Classrooms without walls and different forms of intelligence
Another site of decolonization is the university classroom. We cannot keep teaching the way we have always taught.
Number of our institutions are teaching obsolete forms of knowledge with obsolete pedagogies. Just as we decommission statues, we should decommission a lot of what passes for knowledge in our teaching.
In an age that more than ever valorizes different forms of intelligence, the student-teacher relationship has to change.
In order to set our institutions firmly on the path of future knowledges, we need to reinvent a classroom without walls in which we are all co- learners; a university that is capable of convening various publics in new forms of assemblies that become points of convergence of and platforms for the redistribution of different kinds of knowledges.
The quantified subject
Universities have always been organizational structures with certified and required programs of study, grading system, methods for the legitimate accumulation of credits and acceptable and non acceptable standards of achievement.
Since the start of the 20th century, they have been undergoing internal changes in their organizational structure.
Today, they are large systems of authoritative control, standardization, gradation, accountancy, classification, credits and penalties.
We need to decolonize the systems of management insofar as they have turned higher education into a marketable product bought and sold by standard units.
We might never entirely get rid of measurement, counting, and rating. We nevertheless have to ask whether each form of measurement, counting and rating must necessarily lead to the reduction of everything to staple equivalence.
We have to ask whether there might be other ways of measuring, counting and rating which escape the trap of everything having to become a numerical standard or unit.
We have to create alternative systems of management because the current ones, dominated by statistical reason and the mania for assessment, are deterring students and teachers from a free pursuit of knowledge. They are substituting this goal of free pursuit of knowledge for another, the pursuit of credits.
The system of business principles and statistical accountancy has resulted in an obsessive concern with the periodic and quantitative assessment of every facet of university functioning.
An enormous amount of faculty time and energy are expended in the fulfillment of administrative demands for ongoing assessment and reviews of programs and in the compilation of extensive files demonstrating, preferably in statistical terms, their productivity – the number of publications, the number of conference papers presented, the number of committees served on, the number of courses taught, the
number of students processed in those courses, quantitative measures of teaching excellence.
Excellence itself has been reduced to statistical accountancy.
We have to change this if we want to break the cycle that tends to turn students into customers and consumers.
We have to change this – and many other sites – if the aim of higher education is to be, once again, to redistribute as equally as possible a capacity of a special type – the capacity to make disciplined inquiries into those things we need to know, but do not know yet; the capacity to make systematic forays beyond our current knowledge horizons.
The philosophical challenge
Let me now move to the most important part of this lecture. While preparing it, it became clear to me that the questions we face are of a profoundly intellectual nature.
They are also colossal. And if we do not foreground them intellectually in the first instance; if we do not develop a complex understanding of the nature of what we are actually facing, we will end up with the same old techno-bureaucratic fixes that have led us, in the first place, to the current cul-de-sac.
To be perfectly frank, I have to add that our task is rendered all the more complex because there is hardly any agreement as to the meaning, and even less so the future, of what goes by the name “the university” in our world today.
The harder I tried to make sense of the idea of “decolonization” that has become the rallying cry for those trying to undo the racist legacies of the past, the more I kept asking myself to what extent we might be fighting a complexly mutating entity with concepts inherited from an entirely different age and epoch. Is today’s university the same as yesterday’s or are we confronting an entirely different apparatus, an entirely different rationality – both of which require us to produce radically new concepts?
We all agree that there is something anachronistic, something fundamentally wrong with a number of institutions of higher learning in South Africa.
There is something fundamentally cynical when institutions whose character is profoundly ethno-provincial keep masquerading as replicas of Oxford and Cambridge without demonstrating the same productivity as the original places they are mimicking.
There is something profoundly wrong when, for instance, syllabi designed to meet the needs of colonialism and Apartheid continue well into the post-Apartheid era.
We also agree that part of what is wrong with our institutions of higher learning is that they are “Westernized”.
But what does it mean “they are westernized”?
They are indeed “Westernized” if all that they aspire to is to become local instantiations of a dominant academic model based on a Eurocentric epistemic canon.
But what is a Eurocentric canon?
A Eurocentric canon is a canon that attributes truth only to the Western way of knowledge production.
It is a canon that disregards other epistemic traditions.
It is a canon that tries to portray colonialism as a normal form of social relations between human beings rather than a system of exploitation and oppression.
Furthermore, Western epistemic traditions are traditions that claim detachment of the known from the knower.
They rest on a division between mind and world, or between reason and nature as an ontological a priori.
They are traditions in which the knowing subject is enclosed in itself and peeks out at a world of objects and produces supposedly objective knowledge of those objects. The knowing subject is thus able, we are told, to know the world without being part of that world and he or she is by all accounts able to produce knowledge that is supposed to be universal and independent of context.
The problem – because there is a problem indeed – with this tradition is that it has become hegemonic.
This hegemonic notion of knowledge production has generated discursive scientific practices and has set up interpretive frames that make it difficult to think outside of these frames. But this is not all.
This hegemonic tradition has not only become hegemonic. It also actively represses anything that actually is articulated, thought and envisioned from outside of these frames.
For these reasons, the emerging consensus is that our institutions must undergo a process of decolonization both of knowledge and of the university as an institution.
The task before us is to give content to this call – which requires that we be clear about what we are talking about.
Is ‘decolonization’ the same thing as ‘Africanization’?
Calls to “decolonize” are not new. Nor have they gone uncontested whenever they have been made. We all have in mind African postcolonial experiments in the 1960s and 1970s. Then, “to decolonize” was the same thing as “to Africanize”. To decolonize was part of a nation-building project.
Frantz Fanon was extremely critical of the project of “Africanization”. His critique of “Africanization” (The Wreched of the Earth, chapter 3) was entirely political.
First, he did not believe that it “nation-building” could be achieved by those he called “the national middle class” or the “national bourgeoisie”.
Fanon did not trust the African postcolonial middle class at all.
He thought the African postcolonial middle class was lazy, unscrupulous, parasitic and above all lacking spiritual depth precisely because it had “totally assimilated colonialist thought in its most corrupt form”.
Not engaged in production, nor in invention, nor building, nor labour, its innermost vocation, he thought, was not to transform the nation. It was merely to “keep in the running and be part of the racket”. For instance it constantly demanded the “nationalization of the economy” and of the
trading sectors. But nationalization quite simply meant “the transfer into native hands of those unfair advantages which were a legacy of the colonial past”.
He also thought that in the aftermath of colonialism, the middle class manipulated the overall claim to self-determination as a way of preventing the formation of an authentic national consciousness.
In order to preserve its own interests, the middle class turned the national project into an “an empty shell, a crude and fragile travesty of what might have been”. In this context, the discourse of “Africanization” mostly performed an ideological work. “Africanization” was the ideology masking what fundamentally was a “racketeering” or predatory project – what we call today “looting”.
More ominously, Fanon took a certain discourse of “Africanization” to be akin to something he called “retrogression” – retrogression when “the nation is passed over for the race, and the tribe is preferred to the state”.
“Retrogression” too when, behind a so-called nationalist rhetoric, lurks the hideous face of chauvinism – the “heart breaking return of chauvinism in its most bitter and detestable form”, he writes.
In the aftermath of independence, Fanon witnessed events similar to what we in South Africa call “xenophobic” or “Afrophobic” attacks against fellow Africans. He witnessed similar events in the Ivory Coast, in Senegal, in the Congo where those we call, in the South African lexicon “foreigners” controlled the greater part of the petty trade.
These Africans of other nations were rounded up and commanded to leave. Their shops were burned and their street stalls were wrecked.
Fanon was ill at ease with calls for “Africanization” because calls for “Africanization” are, in most instances, always haunted by the dark desire to get rid of the foreigner – a dark desire which, Fanon confesses, made him “furious and sick at heart”.
It made him furious and sick at heart because the foreigner to be gotten rid of was almost always a fellow African from another nation.
And because the objective target of “Africanization” was a fellow African from another nation, he saw in “Africanization” the name of an inverted racism – self-racism if you like.
As far as I know, Fanon is the most trenchant critique of the
He is its most trenchant critique because of his conviction that very often, especially when the “wrong” social class is in charge, there is a shortcut from nationalism “to chauvinism, and finally to racism”.
In other words, we topple Cecil Rhodes statue only to replace it with the statue of Hitler.
Difference and repetition
Now, if Africanization and decolonization are not the same thing, what then is the true meaning of decolonization?.
For Fanon, struggles for decolonization are first and foremost about self- ownership. They are struggles to repossess, to take back, if necessary by force that which is ours unconditionally and, as such, belongs to us.
As a theory of self-ownership, decolonization is therefore relational, always a bundle of innate rights, capabilities and claims made against others, taken back from others and to be protected against others – once again, by force if necessary.
In his eyes, self-ownership is a precondition, a necessary step towards the creation of new forms of life that could genuinely be characterized as fully human.
Becoming human does not only happen “in” time, but through, by means of, almost by virtue of time. And time, properly speaking, is creation and self-creation – the creation of new forms of life. And if there is something we could call a Fanonian theory of decolonization, that is where it is, in the dialectic of time, life and creation – which for him is the same as self-appropriation.
Decolonization is not about design, tinkering with the margins. It was about reshaping, turning human beings once again into craftsmen and
craftswomen who, in reshaping matters and forms, needed not to look at the pre-existing models and needed not use them as paradigms.
Thus his rejection of “imitation” and “mimicry”. Thus his call to “provincialize” Europe; to turn our backs on Europe; to not take Europe as a model – and this for all sorts of reasons:
 The first was that “the European game has finally ended; we must find something different”; that “We today can do everything, so long as we do not imitate Europe …” (WoE, 312); or “today we are present at the stasis of Europe” (314);
 The second was that “It is a question of the Third World starting a new history of Man” (315); we must “try to set afoot a new man” (316).
The time of decolonization had a double character. It was the time of closure as well as the time of possibility. As such it required a politics of difference as opposed to a politics of imitation and repetition.
It is not very difficult to understand why for Fanon, decolonization came to be so closely associated with these fundamental facts about being, time and self-creation, and ultimately difference as opposed to repetition.
The reason is that colonization itself was a fundamental negation of time.
 Negation of time in the sense that, from the colonial point of view, natives were not simply people without history. They were people radically located outside of time; or whose time was radically out of joint.
 Negation of time also in the sense that that essential category of time we call “the future” – that essential human quality we call the disposition towards the future and the capacity for futurity – all of these were the monopoly of Europe and had to be brought to the natives from outside, as a magnanimous gift of civilization – a gift that turned colonial violence and plunder into a benevolent act supposed to absolve those such as Rhodes who engaged in it.
 Thirdly, negation of time in the sense that, in the colonial mind, the native was ontologically incapable of change and therefore of creation. The native would always and forever be a native. It was the belief that if
she or he were to change, the ways in which this change would occur and the forms that this change would take or would bring about – all of this would always end in a catastrophe.
In other words, the “native principle” was about repetition – repetition without difference. Native time was sheer repetition – not of events as such, but the instantiation of the very law of repetition.
Fanon understands decolonization as precisely a subversion of the law of repetition. In order for this to happen, decolonization had to be :
 An event that could radically redefine native being and open it up to the possibility of becoming a human form rather than a thing;
 An historical event in the sense that it could radically redefine native time as the permanent possibility of the emergence of the not yet.
 To the colonial framework of pre-determination, decolonization opposes the framework of possibility – possibility of a different type of being, a different type of time, a different type of creation, different forms of life, a different humanity – the possibility to reconstitute the human after humanism’s complicity with colonial racism.
“Decolonization, he says, is always a violent phenomenon” whose goal is “the replacing of a certain ‘species’ of men by another ‘species’ of men” (35).
The Latin term ‘species’ derives from a root signifying “to look”, “to see”. It means “appearance”, or “vision”. It can also mean “aspect”. The same root is found in the term ‘speculum’, which means ‘mirror’; or
‘spectrum’, which means ‘image’; in ‘specimen’ which means ‘sign’, and
‘spectaculum’ which refers to ‘spectacle’.
When Fanon uses the term ‘a new species of men’, what does he have in mind?
A new species of men is a new category of “men” who are no longer limited or predetermined by their appearance, and whose essence coincides with their image – their image not as something separate from them; not as something that does not belong to them; but insofar as there is no gap between this image and the recognition of oneself, the property of oneself.
A new species of men is also a category of men who can create new forms of life, free from the shock realization that the image through which they have emerged into visibility (race) is not their essence.
Decolonization is the elimination of this gap between image and essence. It is about the “restitution” of the essence to the image so that that which exists can exist in itself and not in something other than itself, something distorted, clumsy, debased and unworthy.
Seeing oneself clearly
Now, let’s invoke another tradition represented by Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Decolonizing the Mind, 1981) for whom to “Africanize” has a slightly different meaning.
For Ngugi, to “Africanize” is part of a larger politics – not the politics of racketeering and looting, but the politics of language – or has he himself puts it, of “the mother tongue”.
It is also part of a larger search – the search for what he calls “a liberating perspective”.
What does he mean by this expression? He mainly means a perspective which can allow us “to see ourselves clearly in relationship to ourselves and to other selves in the universe” (87). It is worth noting that Ngugi uses the term “decolonizing” – by which he means not an event that happens once for all at a given time and place, but an ongoing process of “seeing ourselves clearly”; emerging out of a state of either blindness or dazziness.
We should note, too, the length to which Ngugi goes in tying up the process of “seeing ourselves clearly” (which in his mind is probably the same as “seeing for ourselves”) to the question of relationality (a trope so present in various other traditions of Black thought, in particular Glissant).
We are called upon to see ourselves clearly, not as an act of secession from the rest of the humanity, but in relation to ourselves and to other selves with whom we share the universe.
And the term “other selves” is open ended enough to include, in this Age of the Anthropocene, all sorts of living species and objects, including the biosphere itself.
Let me add that Ngugi is, more than Fanon, directly interested in questions of writing and teaching – writing oneself, teaching oneself.
He believes that decolonization is not an end point. It is the beginning of an entirely new struggle. It is a struggle over what is to be taught; it is about the terms under which we should be teaching what – not to some generic figure of the student, but to the African “child”, a figure that is very much central to his politics and to his creative work.
Let me briefly recall the core questions Ngugi is grappling with, and it is pretty obvious that they are also ours.
“What should we do with the inherited colonial education system and the consciousness it necessarily inculcated in the African mind? What directions should an education system take in an Africa wishing to break with neo-colonialism? How does it want the “New Africans” to view themselves and their universe and from what base, Afrocentric or Eurocentric? What then are the materials they should be exposed to, and in what order and perspective? Who should be interpreting that material to them, an African or non-African? If African, what kind of African? One who has internalized the colonial world outlook or one attempting to break free from the inherited slave consciousness?”
If “we are to do anything about our individual and collective being today”, Ngugi argues, “then we have to coldly and consciously look at what imperialism has been doing to us and to our view of ourselves in the universe” (88).
In Ngugi’s terms, “decolonization” is a project of “re-centering”. It is about rejecting the assumption that the modern West is the central root of Africa’s consciousness and cultural heritage. It is about rejecting the notion that Africa is merely an extension of the West.
Indeed it is not. The West as such is but a recent moment of our long history. Long before our encounter with the West in the 15th century under the sign of capital, we were relational, worldly beings.
Our geographical imagination extended far beyond the territorial limits of this colossal Continent. It encompassed the trans-Saharian vast expanses and the Indian Ocean shores. It reached the Arabian Peninsula and China Seas.
Decolonizing (à la Ngugi) is not about closing the door to European or other traditions. It is about defining clearly what the centre is.
And for Ngugi, Africa has to be placed at the centre.
“Education is a means of knowledge about ourselves. .. After we have examined ourselves, we radiate outwards and discover peoples and worlds around us. With Africa at the centre of things, not existing as an appendix or a satellite of other countries and literatures, things must be seen from the African perspective”. “All other things are to be considered in their relevance to our situation and their contribution towards understanding ourselves. In suggesting this we are not rejecting other streams, especially the western stream. We are only clearly mapping out the directions and perspectives the study of culture and literature will inevitably take in an African university”.
I have spent this amount of time on Ngugi because he is arguably the African writer who has the most popularized the concept of “decolonizing” we are today relying upon to foster the project of a future university in South Africa. Ngugi drew practical implications from his considerations and we might be wise to look into some of these as we grapple with what it might possibly mean to decolonize our own institutions. Most of these implications had to do with the content and extent of what was to be taught (curriculum reform).
Crucial in this regard was the need to teach African languages. A decolonized university in Africa should put African languages at the center of its teaching and learning project.
Colonialism rimes with mono-lingualism.
The African university of tomorrow will be multilingual.
It will teach (in) Swahili, isiZulu, isiXhosa, Shona, Yoruba, Hausa, Lingala, Gikuyu and it will teach all those other African languages
French, Portuguese or Arabic have become while making a space for Chinese, Hindu etc. It will turn these languages into a creative repository of concepts originating from the four corners of the Earth.
A second implication of Ngugi’s position is that Africa expands well beyond the geographical limits of the Continent. He wanted “to pursue the African connection to the four corners of the Earth” – to the West Indies, to Afro-America.
The lesson is clear. Decolonizing an African university requires a geographical imagination that extends well beyond the confines of the nation-state.
A lot could be said here in view of the segregationist and isolationist histories of South Africa.
Recent scholarship on the many versions of black internationalism and its intersections with various other forms of internationalisms could help in rethinking the spatial politics of decolonization in so far as true decolonization, as Dubois intimated in 1919, necessarily centers on “the destiny of humankind” and not of one race, color or ethnos.
Decolonizing in the future tense
Today, the decolonizing project is back on the agenda worldwide.
It has two sides. The first is a critique of the dominant Eurocentric academic model – the fight against what Latin Americans in particular call “epistemic coloniality”, that is, the endless production of theories that are based on European traditions; are produced nearly always by Europeans or Euro-American men who are the only ones accepted as capable of reaching universality; a particular anthropological knowledge, which is a process of knowing about Others- but a process that never fully acknowledges these Others as thinking and knowledge-producing subjects.
The second is an attempt at imagining what the alternative to this model could look like.
This is where a lot remains to be done. Whatever the case, there is a recognition of the exhaustion of the present academic model with its origins in the universalism of the Enlightenment. Boaventura de Sousa
or Enrique Dussel for instance make it clear that knowledge can only be thought of as universal if it is by definition pluriversal.
They have also made it clear that at the end of the decolonizing process, we will no longer have a university. We will have a pluriversity.
What is a pluriversity?
A pluriversity is not merely the extension throughout the world of a Eurocentric model presumed to be universal and now being reproduced almost everywhere thanks to commercial internationalism.
By pluriversity, many understand a process of knowledge production that is open to epistemic diversity.
It is a process that does not necessarily abandon the notion of universal knowledge for humanity, but which embraces it via a horizontal strategy of openness to dialogue among different epistemic traditions.
To decolonize the university is therefore to reform it with the aim of creating a less provincial and more open critical cosmopolitan pluriversalism – a task that involves the radical re-founding of our ways of thinking and a transcendence of our disciplinary divisions.
The problem of course is whether the university is reformable or whether it is too late.
The age of global Apartheid
We need not to be blind to the limits of the various approaches I have just sketched.
As I said at the start of this talk, my fear is that we might be fighting battles of the present and the future with outdated tools.
A more profound understanding of the situation we find ourselves in today if we are to better rethink the university of tomorrow.
There are a number of things we can do and alone. For instance, turning our universities into safe spaces for black students and staff has an economic cost.
We can keep toppling the statues of those who were firmly convinced that to be black is a liability and to a certain extent we must.
We can change the names of infamous buildings, remake the iconography of their interiors, reform the curriculum, desegregate the dormitories. Transformation will not happen without a recapitalization of our institutions of higher learning.
To better design the higher education landscape of tomorrow, we also need to pay close attention to deeper, systemic global dynamics.
We cannot lose sight of the political economy of knowledge production in the contemporary world of higher education and pretend to decolonize either the university or knowledge itself for that matter.
The flows and linkages in the production, distribution and consumption of knowledge are global. They are not global in the same way everywhere, but they are definitely global and the world of higher education itself is made up of different forms of geo-political stratifications.
The university as we knew it is dead.
Unaware of this fact, many countries might elect to keep living in the midst of its ruins for a long time to come.
Spearheaded by global markets, notably speculation-driven finance and a push for hyper-profits, the global restructuring of higher education initiated at the beginning of the 20th century in America has now reached its final stage.
Late orthodoxy has it that universities are too expensive, too fragmented and too nation-state-centric at a time when economic integration at a planetary level must become the new norm.
The urgency, we are told, is to move towards a post-national or partially denationalized higher education space that would increase the availability of a skilled labor force and foster the transferability and compatibility of skills across boundaries while helping to set up intensive research collaborations between universities and transnational corporations.
Within this paradigm, the new mission assigned to universities is to produce innovations that are necessary for the interests of transnationally mobile capital.
To this effect, a small number of élite universities must train tomorrow’s creative classes.
These are people whose economic interests will be globally linked; whose bonds as citizens of a particular nation-state will be weakened while those resting on being the member of a transnational class will be strengthened. They are destined to share similar lifestyles and consumption habits.
The rescaling of the university is meant to achieve one single goal – to turn it into a springboard for global markets in an economy that is increasingly knowledge and innovation-based and therefore requires specialized knowledge in advanced mathematics, complex systems and technologies and intricate organizational formats.
A consequence of the denationalization and transnationalisation has been the de-funding of major public institutions in the West and the intensification of the competition among universities throughout the world.
The brutality of this competition is such that it has opened a new era of global Apartheid in higher education. In this new era, winners will graduate to the status of “world class” universities and losers will be relegated and confined to the category of global bush colleges.
Global bush colleges will keep churning out masses of semi-qualified students saddled with massive debts and destined to join the growing ranks of the low-income workers, of the unemployed and of the growing number of people expelled from the core social and economic orders of our times.
This is what is called zoning or warehousing.
Zoning is fuelled by the tremendous expansion of higher education on a global scale.
The latter has opened the way to an unprecedented era of student mobility and educational migration.
China alone had a staggering 419,000 students pursuing higher education outside the country’s borders in 2008. Today, Africans constitute 7% of the international student body in Chinese universities.
They are present in virtually every province. According to the World Trade Organization, outward student mobility is increasing faster from Africa than from any other continent.
Why is China comparatively well positioned to attract African students? Well, partly because of its moderate tuition fees, low living costs,
welcoming visa policies as compared to most Western destinations and,
more and more, South Africa. At Wits, non-national African students pay more than 700% what South African students pay annually. The other factor is the extent to which African students in China are able to combine studies with business activities, especially to engage in trade.
In SA, contrary to the United States, a non-national staff member with tenure is not guaranteed a permanent work permit. His or her work permit must not only be subjected to renewal periodically. Whenever he moves from one institution to another, he must reapply for an entirely new work permit. Furthermore, there is no correlation between permanent job tenure and access to permanent residence.
The paradigm of the “world class university” has become attractive to many countries, especially in Asia where national governments are copying the Anglo-American based model in order to restructure their higher education sector.
The world’s largest and most populous nations outside the Western world such as China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and Pakistan are educating large skilled workforces. Malaysia, the Gulf States, Singapore are increasingly supporting the development of regional institutions while establishing themselves as major hubs for new waves of globalized higher education.
The developments sketched above partly explain why universities have become large systems of authoritative control and standardization.
Indeed higher education has been turned into a marketable product. The free pursuit of knowledge has been replaced by the free pursuit of credits. Worldwide not much differentiates students from customers and consumers.
Can we and should we fight against this trend? Are there aspects of this process of denationalization that can be maximized for our own objectives?
If the university has been effectively turned into a springboard for global markets, what do terms such as “decolonizing knowledge” possibly mean?
Can we compete with China in attracting African students to our shores? Yes, if we fully embrace our own location in the African continent and
stop thinking in South-Africa-centric terms.
Yes, if we entirely redesign our curricula and our tuition systems, revamp our immigration policy and open new paths to citizenship for those who are willing to tie their fate with ours.
Of all African nations, we are in the best position to set up diasporic knowledge networks which would enable scholars of African descent in the rest of the world to transfer their skills and expertise to our students without necessarily settling here permanently.
This is what China has done through its 111 program whose aim is to recruit overseas Chinese intellectuals to mainland universities on a periodic basis.
We are also in the best position to set up study in Africa programs for our students and to foster new intra-continental academic networks through various connectivity schemes. This is how we will maximize the benefits of brain circulation.
The speed, scale and volume of the phenomenon of transnational talent mobility will only increase and with it, the emergence of the new reality of knowledge diasporas. The constitution of these knowledge diasporas is encouraged, supported and necessitated by globalization.
We need to take this phenomenon seriously and stop thinking about it in terms of theories of migration. The complexity of the current motion defies the labels of brain drain and brain gain. We live in an age in which most relations between academics are increasingly de-territorialized.
Let’s do like other countries. Take, for instance, China. In 2010, Chinese scholars in the USA represented 25.6% of all the international scholars. In China itself, they are regarded not only as knowledge carriers and producers but also as cultural mediators capable of interrogating the global through the local, precisely because they inhabit in-between spaces not bound by nation-states.
We will foster a process of decolonization of our universities if we invest in these diasporic intellectual networks and if we take seriously these spaces of transnational engagement, with the goal of harnessing for South Africa and Africa the floating resources freed by the process of globalised talent mobility. In order to achieve such a goal, we cannot afford to think exclusively in South-African-centric terms.
There will be no decolonization of our universities without a better understanding of the complex dynamics of global movement to which we must respond through Africa-centered, pro-active projects.
The aim of higher education in emerging democracies is to redistribute as equally as possible the capacity to make disciplined inquiries into those things we need to know, but do not know yet.
Our capacity to make systematic forays beyond our current knowledge horizons will be severely hampered if we rely exclusively on those aspects of the Western archive that disregard other epistemic traditions.
Yet the Western archive is singularly complex. It contains within itself the resources of its own refutation. It is neither monolithic, nor the exclusive property of the West. Africa and its diaspora decisively contributed to its making and should legitimately make foundational claims on it.
Decolonizing knowledge is therefore not simply about de- Westernization.
As writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o reminds us, it mostly means developing a perspective which can allow us to see ourselves clearly, but always in relationship to ourselves and to other selves in the universe, non- humans included.
Finally we can no longer think about “the human” in the same terms we were used to until quite recently.
At the start of this new century, three processes force us to think the human in entirely new ways.
The first is the recognition of the fact that an epoch-scale boundary has been crossed within the last two centuries of human life on Earth and that we have, as a consequence, entered an entirely new deep, geological time, that of the Anthropocene.
The concept of the Anthropocene itself denotes a new geological epoch characterized by human-induced massive and accelerated changes to the Earth’s climate, land, oceans and biosphere.
The scale, magnitude and significance of this environmental change – in other words the future evolution of the biosphere and of Earth’s environmental life support systems particularly in the context of the Earth’s geological history – this is arguably the most important question facing the humanity since at stake is the very possibility of its extinction.
We therefore have to rethink the human not from the perspective of its mastery of the Creation as we used to, but from the perspective of its finitude and its possible extinction.
This kind of rethinking, to be sure, has been under way for some time now. The problem is that we seem to have entirely avoided it in Africa in spite of the existence of a rich archive in this regard.
This rethinking of the human has unfolded along several lines and has yielded a number of preliminary conclusions I would like to summarize.
The first is that humans are part of a very long, deep history that is not simply theirs; that history is vastly older than the very existence of the human race which, in fact, is very recent. And they share this deep history with various forms of other living entities and species.
Our history is therefore one of entanglement with multiple other species. And this being the case, the dualistic partitions of minds from bodies, meaning and matter or nature from culture can no longer hold.
The second – and this is crucial for the renewed dialogue the humanities must have with life and natural sciences – is that matter has morphogenetic capacities of its own and does not need to be commanded into generating form.
It is not an inert receptacle for forms that come from the outside imposed by an exterior agency.
This being the case, the concept of agency and power must be extended to non-human nature and conventional understandings of life must be called into question.
The third is that to be a subject is no longer to act autonomously in front of an objective background, but to share agency with other subjects that have also lost their autonomy.
We therefore have to shift away from the dreams of mastery.
In other words, a new understanding of ontology, epistemology, ethics and politics has to be achieved. It can only be achieved by overcoming anthropocentrism and humanism, the split between nature and culture.
The human no longer constitutes a special category that is other than that of the objects. Objects are not a pole opposed to humans.
At the heart of the efforts at reframing the human is the growing realization of our precariousness as a species in the face of ecological threats and the outright possibility of human extinction opened up by climate change.
We are witnessing an opening up to the multiple affinities between humans and other creatures or species. We can no longer assume that there are incommensurable differences between us, tool makers, sign makers, language speakers and other animals or between social history and natural history.
Our world is populated by a variety of nonhuman actors. They are unleashed in the world as autonomous actors in their own right, irreducible to representations and freed from any constant reference to the human.
Race has once again re-entered the domain of biological truth, viewed now through a molecular gaze. A new molecular deployment of race has emerged out of genomic thinking.
Worlwide, we witness a renewed interest in terms of the identification of biological differences.
Fundamental to ongoing re-articulations of race and recoding of racism are developments in the life sciences, and in particular in genomics, in our understanding of the cell, in neuroscience and in synthetic biology.
This process has been rendered even more powerful by its convergence with two parallel developments.
The first is the digital technologies of the information age and the second is the financialization of the economy.
This has led to two sets of consequences. On the one hand is a renewed preoccupation with the future of life itself. The corporeal is no longer construed as the mystery it has been for a very long time. It is now read as a molecular mechanism. This being the case, organisms – including human organisms – seem “amenable to optimization by reverse engineering and reconfiguration”. In other words, life defined as a molecular process is understood as amenable to intervention.
This in turn has revitalized fantasies of omnipotence – the Second
Creation (vs Apocalypse)
A second set of consequences has to do with the new work capital is doing under contemporary conditions.
Thanks to the work of capital, we are no longer fundamentally different from things. We turn them into persons. We fall in love with them. We are no longer only persons or we have never been only persons.
Furthermore we now realize that there is probably more to race than we ever imagined.
New configurations of racism are emerging worldwide. Because race- thinking increasingly entails profound questions about the nature of species in general, the need to rethink the politics of racialisation and the terms under which the struggle for racial justice unfolds here and elsewhere in the world today has become ever more urgent.
Racism here and elsewhere is still acting as a constitutive supplement to nationalism and chauvinism. How do we create a world beyond national- chauvinism?
Behind the veil of neutrality and impartiality, racial power still structurally depends on various legal regimes for its reproduction. How do we radically transform the law?
Even more ominously, race politics is taking a genomic turn.
At stake in the contemporary reconfigurations and mutations of race and racism is the splitting of humanity itself into separate species and sub- species as a result of market libertarianism and genetic technology.
At stake are also, once again, the old questions of who is whom, who can make what kinds of claims on whom and on what grounds, and who is to own whom and what. In a contemporary neoliberal order that claims to have gone beyond the racial, the struggle for racial justice must take new forms.
In order to invigorate anti-racist thought and praxis and to reanimate the project of a non-racial university, we particularly need to explore the emerging nexus between biology, genes, technologies and their articulations with new forms of human destitution.
But simply looking into past and present local and global re-articulations of race will not suffice.
To tease out alternative possibilities for thinking life and human futures in this age of neoliberal individualism, we need to connect in entirely new ways the project of non-racialism to that of human mutuality.
In the last instance, a non-racial university is truly about radical sharing and universal inclusion.
May 7, 2015
May 6, 2015
The following is mainly based on the first chapter of Ngugi’s “Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature” (1986):
Ngugi wa Thiong’o, a Kenyan writer, says that African writers should write in their mother tongues, not in the old colonial languages of English, French and Portuguese. He used to write in English, but now he mostly writes in Gikuyu.
In most of the world writers write in their mother tongue. That this point is even debated in Africa shows just how screwed up Africa has become by Europe and America.
The two main uses of language:
Language as communication: This is the “pass the salt” level of language. Language used to work together and get things done.
Language as culture: Language expresses and carries the culture of a people. It becomes the storehouse of its images, ideas, wisdom, experience and history. It ties you to your people, it becomes part of who you are. It shapes how you look at the world and yourself.
The trouble is, many Africans grew up as children in their mother tongue but received their higher education in a colonial language. Higher education is not just science and mathematics but also literature and philosophy and art – and therefore a certain way of looking at the world. In this case a Western, Eurocentric one.
This leads to colonial alienation:
You become “torn between two worlds”. You see yourself through the eyes of others. Your mother tongue, your people, their culture, all become a point of shame for you.
You are cut off from your people, which means you cannot help them break their chains, overthrow the neo-colonial order and free everyone.
Your people are cut off from you, robbed of your work and talent as you become part of a neo-colonial culture. You wind up either serving a foreign culture and its interests or, at best, sinking into bitterness and despair.
It is a cage that helps no one but Europeans and Americans.
Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian writer of English expression, disagrees:
Colonial language as lingua franca: It is often the only language that can reach the whole country, like English in Nigeria or Portuguese in Angola.
Africanization: European languages can be Africanized to serve African ideas and interests – something that Achebe himself does with English.
Ngugi says that Achebe and writers like him are only reaching the middle-class, not the masses. To overthrow the current order you need to reach the masses.
Achebe also keeps his English in a form that Europeans can easily understand. Why? Nigeria already has a thoroughly Africanized form of English which is widely known by the masses – Pidgin. Why not write in that?
Europeans understood that it was not enough to take over Africa with guns alone. They also needed to take over the minds of its people. They did that through English and French and Portuguese and the fine educations offered in those languages. Africa’s current condition shows that they have succeeded.
May 4, 2015
Writing in The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates recently called the bluff of the preachers of nonviolence in a stunning fashion, insisting that: “When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.” In a recent NPR interview, however—in which Robert Siegel’s badgering was only slightly more polite than Wolf Blitzer’s bullying—Coates laughs off comparisons to Fanon, instead insisting that his goal is not to question nonviolence, but simply to call the bluff of those who insist on nonviolence while brutalizing Black communities. But by attempting to leverage hypocrisy to impose ethical behavior on a white supremacist state, Coates runs the risk of neglecting a very Fanonian insight that his own writing often confirms: namely, that under conditions of white supremacy, ethics is impossible.
De Balie Podium / di 5 mei / 20:00
The Azawadian Revolution and the Dutch Mission in Mali
In the summer of 2014, documentary film makers Gabriëlle Provaas and Rob Schröder joined a delegation of the New World Academy to travel with the National Liberation Movement of Azawad (MNLA), which since 2012 has been fighting for the independent state of Azawad—one and a half times the size of France—in the northern, Saharan part of Mali.
The resulting documentary—Azawad: The Art of Creating a State—offers a unique insight in the everyday struggle of the Kel Tamasheq (Tuareg), Arab, Fula, and Songhai peoples that have joined the liberation movement. Together with artist Jonas Staal and producer Younes Bouadi, the directors interviewed the movement’s provisional government, commanders, strategists, historians, and artists, who explain their endeavors in the “art of creating a state”—a state that, up until today, has not been recognized by any other state in the world.
The recent instability in Azawad has attracted the activity of jihadist groups, which in turn led the Malian government to seek help from France as well as the United Nations, which sent an intervention force that includes five hundred Dutch soldiers currently stationed in northern Mali. In the meantime, the liberation movement continues to struggle and seek support for their own independent state.
On the occasion of May 5, the Dutch Liberation Day, this documentary film poses several important questions: How does the struggle for self-determination of liberation movements relates to the duty of the UN to protect the sovereignty of both peoples and states? To whose safety and liberation do the Dutch soldiers in the UN mission contribute exactly? And how can artists and filmmakers balance out the limited information on barely mediatized and highly complex conflicts such as these?
Following the introduction by directors Provaas and Schröder, the screening of the film Azawad: The Art of Creating a State is followed by a debate between Moussa Ag Assarid (writer and European representative of the National Liberation Movement of Azawad, MNLA), Jasper van Dijk (Spokesman Foreign Affair of the Socialist Party, SP), and several prominent Dutch politicians and specialists on the conflict of northern Mali. The program is introduced by Jonas Staal (artist and co-founder of the New World Academy) and moderated by Chris Keulemans (writer and journalist).
The conference is organized by the New World Academy, an educational platform that researches the role of art in stateless political struggle, founded by artist Jonas Staal and BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht. An overview of the work of the New World Academy is on view until June 21, 2015 in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht.
The postcolonial melancholic doesn’t (just) refuse to accept change; at some level, she refuses to accept that change has happened at all. She incoherently holds on to the fantasy of omnipotence by experiencing change only as decline and failure, for which, naturally, the Other must be blamed.
Ghosts of My Life
My aim is not to romanticise silence and thus undermine the power of giving voice and exposing oppression. It is rather to remind us that under conditions of scarcity and imposed limits, those who are oppressed often generate new meanings for themselves around silences. Instead of being absent and voiceless, silences in circumstances of violence assume presence and speak volumes (Nthabiseng Motsemme)
May 3, 2015
April 29, 2015
camera by dylan valley
concept and edit by aryan kaganof
music by khoisan
April 28, 2015
April 27, 2015
April 21, 2015
April 19, 2015
“The nature of the modern state emerges clearly in the praxis of the police. Here, the distinction between a power/violence that imposes law (rechtsetzende Gewalt) and one that defends it (rechtserhaltende Gewalt) is suppressed: the police imposes law in the act itself in which it preserves it, intervening in precisely those cases ‘where no clear legal situation exists’. Not only in extreme cases, in which domestic order and public security are really threatened, but in every intervention in which the police violates the law in order to preserve it: when, for example, the police exceed the speed limit to stop the driver of an automobile guilty of having exceeded it, or when they intervene violently to break up a demonstration. This suspension and violation of the law is the normal practice of police action: only by its own violation can the law be maintained. There is no stable border between Gewalt and law, and the police illustrates this confusion in a paradigmatic way.
This delineates a situation in which it becomes impossible to decide which is the exception and which the rule, as both are inescapably intertwined in a police net. It was such a net that Walter Benjamin had the opportunity to observe at work in the bloody Social-Democrat repression of Noske against the Spartakist revolt in January 1919 and against the communist rising in the Ruhr in the Spring of 1920. But the criticism of police praxis without the criticism of the political form that makes that spectral praxis possible would leave the job half-done. And the political form in which the greatest imaginable degeneration of Gewalt is possible is democracy. Benjamin comments:
‘And though the police, may, in particulars, appear the same everywhere, it cannot finally be denied that in absolute monarchy, where they represent the power of a ruler in which the legislative and executive supremacy are united, their spirit is less devastating than in democracy, where their existence, elevated by no such relation, bears witness to the greatest conceivable degeneration of violence (die denkbar grosste Entartung der Gewalt).’
The embarrassment of Derrida when commenting on this passage is extremely instructive. Derrida is unable to see the decisive passage, namely, that which carries the critique of violence over into the critique of democracy. To save democracy, he is forced to speak of a degenerative form of democracy, of its distance from some model of democracy which has yet to be built, or revived, while, for Benjamin, it is instead democracy itself which makes possible the greatest degeneration of Gewalt. Overturning Benjamin’s reasoning, Derrida writes that if, in absolute monarchies, police violence appears as what it is and according to its own nature, in democracies their own principle is negated by such violence, which appears as what should not be. The scandal would, in other words, consist of a police violence that, in democracies, should not manifest itself. One must here respond that police violence does not corrupt the democratic principle, as Derrida thinks, but, rather, expresses its most intimate essence. Police violence appears in its ‘spectral presence’ especially in modern representative democracy, for only there can it truly pervade everything. Its presence is ‘spectral (gespentisch)’, ‘elusive’, ‘diffused into every locale’, because it does not recognise any disitnction between public and private spheres. Inasmuch as it is legitimated by popular sovereignty, in the name of which it acts, it encounters no obstacles, but only a mass of individuals, private because deprived of any Gewalt.”
Another kind of Gewalt: Beyond Law. Re-reading Walter Benjamin
in Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory
Volume 17 Issue 1