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Ntombi Nhlapo
Siphilangenkosi Dlamini

Ntombi Nhlapo & Siphilangenkosi Dlamini

To date, the term ‘decolonisation’ is understood differently by different people.

Its meaning largely depends on the various contexts such as the cultural, economic, political, or epistemic aspects.

Sharon Stein and Vanessa de Oliveira Andreotti wrote in their joint publication, Higher Education and the Modern/Colonial Global Imaginary, that decolonisation can be understood to be an umbrella term for different efforts that create resistance against processes of colonisation and racialisation with the purpose to transform and redress the historical legacy of colonialism.

Calls and debates to decolonise African institutions have been prevalent with universities grappling to transform their foundations of colonial structures.

This comes after decades of massive critique that South African universities are still rooted in and continue to reproduce coloniality.

The institutions continue to reproduce epistemological hierarchy where Western knowledge is still supreme and privileged over non-Western pedagogies and knowledge.

A typical example would be the mainstream international relations (IR) that is believed to produce objective, neutral and scientific knowledge concerning international relations.

Yet, when you look at the theories of IR, those that are supposed to tell us how the world functions, you hardly find non-Western theories.

We mostly come across liberalism, idealism and Marxism, to name a few, but one seldom finds an IR theory that incorporates the Global South history during colonialism.

It is almost as if it never happened.

How is this an international discipline of knowledge if the Global South is not factored in?

Or is it because we are taught to believe that European history is the only valued and superior version of history?

Our institutions of higher learning need to decolonise persistent colonial pedagogies that continue to breed coloniality into the Global South.

Knowledge and IR scholars from the Global South cannot continue to be marginalised and excluded from well-recognised IR academic journals because of language barriers.

Equally, Western IR scholars need to also acknowledge the bias of Western mainstream IR theories that do not represent the international system.

Both IR scholars from the Global North and the South need to work together to promote a truly Global IR that is a composite of diverse and inclusive study.

The efforts to decolonise South African institutions should not only be limited to South African institutions of higher learning.

Instead, they should involve multiple unorthodox conversations more especially with states that have successfully piloted the decolonisation agenda.

Furthermore, the decolonisation agenda should not only be centred in the Global South community but instead should explore tonnes of the theoretical and epistemological approaches.

In fact, scholars suggest that decolonisation talks and research should not run parallel to other debates about the future of South African universities but, instead, intersect with them.

In The Dangers of Parochialism in International Relations (2018), Karen Smith proposes that “we should guard against adopting a parochial approach to decolonising existing knowledge and uncovering alternative understandings from the Global South of how the world works.”

All approaches aimed at replacing Western ideas with authentically indigenous ones are inherently viewed as misguided, due to the interconnected nature of knowledge.

They also deny the role that the non-West has played in constructing what is regarded as Western knowledge.

It is important to note that liberating ourselves from a parochial approach will enable us to recognise a much wider range of theoretical innovations, and also allow for the discovery of similarities of seemingly different worldviews.

The need to unsettle the structures of academic colonialism has never been more relevant than in this day and age.

Efforts by various institutions are and should continue to be a swift response to the ever-increasing need for decolonised curricula and academic spaces and symbols.

In this regard, globally relevant curricula and academic spaces should become a key ingredient in the formation of authentic African academic perspectives.

Thus in the process of transforming the higher education system in South Africa for the better, there is a need to collectively engage in order to uproot the colonial residues of past regimes by actively involving the very populace that the decolonisation and transformation agenda is aimed at.

  • Ntombi Nhlapo is a political science honours graduate and a political science facilitator at the University of the Free State while Siphilangenkosi Dlamini is a young fiction writer studying politics at the same institution.

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