Aller à la navigation | Aller au contenu


1|21 Philosophy, Politics and Africanism

Gugu Ndlazi

A Critical Reflection of African Philosophy and decolonization of the educational discourse in South Africa


Full text


1Higgs (2003, 01 - 03) argued that the philosophical discourse in South Africa concerning higher education, teaching and learning has always been fragmented. Twenty-five years later the philosophical discourse in education remains fragmented. During the apartheid years, philosophical discourse about the nature of higher education, teaching and learning was dominated by Fundamental Pedagogics, providing the foundational landscape for apartheid education in the form of Christian National Education. As such, “Fundamental Pedagogics” was regarded as a crucial element of apartheid education, evinced through Christian National Education. With the dismantling of apartheid and the abandoning of the system of Christian National Education it became necessary to formulate a new philosophical discourse in higher education. But what should constitute such a re-vision of philosophical discourse? In this paper, I argue for the introduction of an African discourse into the conversation surrounding the revision of philosophy of education in South Africa. In other words, the paper seeks to extend African philosophical ideas in the debate of decolonization of South African higher education. Thus, providing a contribution to contemporary practical issues to African philosophy and African experiences, specifically, South African. Such a discourse will refer to the African philosophy body of literature and the recent calls for decolonization in higher education as seen by social media hangtags, #FeesMustFall, #RhodesMustFall and media outlets.


2The years 2015 and 2016, saw “historically white” South African universities brought to disruption by mostly black students who were against the increase of student fees at their universities. South Africans saw students from disadvantaged to privileged universities stand together to fight against the increase of expensive fees, and other underlying challenges such as institutional racism, and the Eurocentric initial university curriculum. The fight against fee increment was labelled and hash tagged as the #FeesMustFall movement. The movement started at the University of the Witwatersrand and rapidly spread to all government funded universities. Interestingly, government funded universities, also known as “historically black universities” students have conflicted with university management about the increase of student fees, accommodation and other basic student necessities without recognition by popular media outlets. Furthermore, before #FeesMustFall became a huge movement in late 2015, early in the year 2016, South Africa witnessed one of the most profound student movements after South Africa’s democracy, labelled #RhodesMustFall. The #RhodesMustFall movement saw students express their unhappiness with the continued presence of Cecil John Rhodes at the University of Cape Town. The movement expressed a number of concerns black students had been battling with at the University of Cape Town, concerns such as the praise of Cecil John Rhodes, language of instruction, the colonial nature of the university and the lack of diversity and racial nature and culture the university had continued to embrace. The two movements aimed to fight against and address expensive tuition fees, institutional racism and the Eurocentric curriculum.

3However, the government and universities’ responses to the movements showed that the South African transformative policies were failing the post-apartheid generation of African descent and white universities had the power to not only dismiss these concerns but they had the infrastructure and racialised system which continued to dominate and hold black students hostage. According to a research study conducted by Chetty and Knaus (2016) the #FeesMustFall Movement was a manifestation of a class struggle in South African universities. The research showed that the higher education system was not only racially biased but was also class-based. Le Grange (2016) also conducted a study which showed that only 15 per cent of the 60 per cent of black students who survived first year eventually completed their studies. A reflection on these two studies to shows that, not only do the majority poor university students struggle to stay at the university they are registered at due to expensive tuition fees, racism, discrimination and the Eurocentric curriculum they were exposed to but they also had to struggle with the financial and social likelihood that they might not complete their studies. These studies showed the conditions which most disadvantaged poor “black” university students had been struggling to address. Furthermore, such studies show that while white universities register and admit more black students, these students were thrown into the deep end because they were in a world that was not designed for them, a world that excluded them and a world that wanted a percentage of black skins so that they had the scores to “show” their diversity without the actual diversity.

4The paper argues that the #RhodesMustfall and #FeesMustFall movement secured and solidified a more in-depth focus on the current Eurocentric curriculum, colonial nature of South African universities and most importantly the insistence on the introduction of an Afrocentric education. The paper will argue that African philosophy can be applied as a possible strategy to redress, address and acknowledge African knowledge systems, and challenge the racially biased knowledge systems of the West. To support my argument, the paper draws on Higgs’ (2003,10) who had envisioned that African philosophy can play a critical role in redressing and addressing centuries of domination, power, discrimination and Western school of thought. He argued that the liberation of Africa as a whole and its people from centuries of racially discriminatory colonial rule and domination has far-reaching implications for educational thought and practice. In other words, the liberal and transformation agenda should be intentional in (South) Africa to address, redress and speak the language of the indigenous people. The #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall movement were intentional and clear about what students were not happy about and the changes they needed to improve their university experience. Students believed that the historically white universities, should be inclusive, diverse, acknowledge and accommodate different cultural backgrounds and expression. Such an embrace of diversity and inclusion is captured by Higgs (2003, 03) “The transformation of educational discourse in Africa requires a philosophical framework that respects diversity, acknowledges lived experience and challenges the hegemony of Western forms of universal knowledge and African philosophy acknowledges African knowledge systems and lived experience of the African people”. Higgs’ (2003, 10-11) argument of African philosophy as a framework that respects diversity, embraces togetherness and encourages the values of ubuntu, could also be applied as a methodology to push further the conversation of decolonization in higher education thus stripping away what is colonial about the higher education. This paper seeks to critically reflect on whether African philosophy, as a system of African knowledge(s), can provide a useful philosophical framework/methodology for the decolonization and re-construction of the higher education institutions. Thus, providing knowledge that would enable communities in (South) Africa to participate in their own educational development.

5The history of Africa has been largely dominated by colonial power and Christian National Education. According to Wiredu (1980, 12) and Ramose (2002, 120) colonialism in Africa provided the framework for the organised subjugation of the cultural, scientific and economic life of many on the African continent. This subjugation impacted on African people’s way of seeing and acting in the world. In fact, African identity, to all intents and purposes, became an inverted mirror of Western Eurocentric identity. This state of affairs gave birth to numerous attempts to reassert distinctively African ways of thinking and of relating to the world and was expressed in the call for an African Renaissance (Higgs, 2003: 06) and in the past two years, the calls for #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall movement. Of course, the calls for a more African centred approach to education, also known as African Renaissance, had been present for several years (see, Diop, 1996; Maloka, 2000; Muiu & Martin, 2002; Lumumba-Kasongo, 2002). However, one may argue that the momentum of the African centred approach to education had been accelerated by the #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall movements which forced the Department of Higher Education and Training to revisit the curriculum taught in higher education institutions. In his speech at the Higher Education Summit held in October 2015 the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Mr Blade Nzimande called for the Africanisation of universities. He stated, ‘universities, all of them, must shed all the problematic features of their apartheid and colonial past’. At the summit the minister requested universities to investigate the issue of decolonising the curriculum. In the Western Cape province, for example, we have seen responses to the call for the decolonisation of the university curriculum: the appointment of a central curriculum committee to coordinate decolonising of the curriculum at the University of Cape Town, an all-day colloquium on the topic at the University of the Western Cape in May 2016.

6The process of decolonisation that unfolded during the 1996 – 2002s saw Africa assert its right to define itself within its own African context in the attainment of independence. In other words, authors such as (Diop 1996, Maloka 2000 and Muiu & Martins 2002) began the process of developing or re-constructing an African identity. WaThiong’o (1993) argued that Africans have the right to name the world for themselves and build a strong foundation for the current and future generation in African Philosophy, thus, participating in the educational discourse in South Africa. According to Makgoba, Shope & Mazwai (1999) “African Renaissance is a unique opportunity for Africans to define themselves and their agenda according to their realities and considering the realities of the world around them. It is about Africans being agents of their own history and masters of their destiny”. Advocates of the African Renaissance in education such as Teffo (2000), Vilakazi (2002), and Seepe (2001), have shown that much of what is assumed to be education in Africa, is in fact European education and a mixture of what Europeans assume to be African. Higgs (2003, 07) also asserts that the African Renaissance has in the past couple of years taken on a much greater significance with the call for the recognition of indigenous African knowledge systems by such scholars as Hoppers (2000, 2002), Teffo (2000) and Seepe (2001, 2001a). Furthermore, the African Renaissance aimed to respond to an incorrect situation which according to Higgs (2003,07) assumed that Africans possess little or no indigenous knowledge of value that could be utilized in the process of educational transformation. The call for African Renaissance insists that all critical and transformative educators in Africa should embrace indigenous African world views and root their nation’s educational paradigms in indigenous African socio-cultural and epistemological frameworks (Higgs 2003, 07 - 08). The African Renaissance argument implies that, the basic and higher education curriculum in (South) Africa should have African-ness as their focus, and as a result be indigenous-grounded and orientated. Failure to do so, particularly in South Africa, would mean that the agenda of transformation and diversity has not be achieved. And therefore, the education discourse continued to be alien, racially biased and irrelevant to an African child. To build on the purpose of this article I will discuss what is meant by African-ness because it is important to define and understand what we mean by African-ness, therefore leading an argument of contextualizing African philosophy in African and critically discussing how the project of educational decolonization shall be conducted.

What does African (-ness) mean

7It is very important for issues that the paper discusses, understands and unpacks that the meaning of the adjective “African” in this paper be clearly defined. Understanding what African (-ness) means is crucial as it helps establish a uniquely African order of knowledge (see Masolo, 1995) and the basis of what is African. Dladla (2017, 103 - 109) argues that historically, “Africanism is understood as a philosophy of liberation”. The argument of Africanism draws on the reflection of a moment in the development of the liberation struggle in South Africa, where certain younger members of the African National Congress tired of white paternalism and the reliance by the organisation on European ideas sought to redirect the struggle and its approach towards an African cultural basis which meant the reconnection of their contemporary struggle with the antecedent history of anti-colonial wars. The goal of the resistance struggle was to restore to the indigenous people their dignity and sovereignty. (Dladla, 2017: 104). While one of the most prominent African Philosophers - Ramose (2003, 114–116) argues that the term Africa(n) is contestable on at least two grounds. One is that the name is not conferred by the indigenous people of Africa on themselves. Another is that the name Africa(n) does not by definition refer to the histories of the indigenous peoples inhabiting various parts of the continent from time immemorial. Higgs (2003, 06 - 07) understands Ramose’s argument to mean that, the term (African) is geographically significant but, historically, its meaning is questionable from the point of view of the indigenous African peoples. Mudimbe (1988) and Hountondji (1985, 1996), on the other hand regard an intellectual product as African simply because it is produced or promoted by Africans. They, therefore, adopt a geographical criterion in their definition of the term ‘African’. Mudimbe (1988) and Hountondji’s (1985, 1996) view of the definition of Africa implies that they potentially regard as the contributions of Africans practising philosophy within the defined framework of the discipline and its historical traditions. Gyekye (1987, 72) understands African-ness to mean, something is ‘African’ if it directs its attention to issues concerning the theoretical or conceptual underpinnings of African culture. Gyekye (1987) writes: ‘Philosophy is a cultural phenomenon in that philosophical thought is grounded in cultural experience’. Based on this view a study of the traditional African world in terms of views, ideas, and conceptions represents the unique substance of African philosophy and legitimates reference to what is referred to as African philosophy. In addition to Gyekye’s definition of Africanism, Ramose, Serequeberhan and Okere, (as cited by Dladla, 2017) amongst others, argue that African philosophy in general, has its basis in “the culture and experience of African peoples” and the “African philosopher”. In other words, the term African-ness (itself) at the very minimum should be arguing for the liberation of African Philosophy from the yoke of dominance and enslavement under the European (Western) epistemological paradigm (Dladla, 2017:107). The interest in this paper is with the nature of African-ness as a philosophy of liberation, decolonization and dismantling institutional racism and power, which has found expression in the indigenous people of Africa. In support of my argument, I adopt Dladla’s argument that just like Western Philosophy describe the Wests’ human nature and experiences, African philosophy should be doing the same in Africa. In other words, African philosophy should focus on providing Africans with the opportunity to discuss and describe their human nature, culture and experiences of African people. I also assert that African philosophy should provide Africans with an opportunity to reflect, redress and address the legacies of colonial power in (South) Africa, by refurnishing our minds, providing access to economic freedom to all and redefining our socio-economic realities. Below, I discuss African philosophy in an African context which aims at gaining an understanding of the African philosophy in Africa and how that speaks to the notion of decolonisation in Africa.

African Philosophy in an African Context?

“It would be a great day for African philosophy when the same becomes true of an African university, for it would mean that African insights have become fully integrated into the principal branches of philosophy” (Wiredu 1998, 19).

8The interesting quote above is from Wiredu’s - Toward Decolonizing African Philosophy and Religion paper published in 1998. Kwesi Wiredu is a Ghanaian philosopher who has been involved in the project of “conceptual decolonization”. Wiredu’s view of Africa and African Philosophy is that for as long as African philosophy is taught and philosophised in English or any other language that is not African it remains alien. For as long as African philosophy still follows the rules and application of Western philosophy, it is not African Philosophy. Wiredu pushes his argument to the extent that he argues that philosophers in Africa philosophy who philosophize using the western tradition style have not been de-westernised. Meaning the only true reflect or fashion of African philosophy in Africa, is if African philosophy is philosophized in an African manner. African philosophy will only be a true reflection of Africa when Africans philosophize as Africans and have de-westernized themselves from the Western traditions of philosophizing. Wiredu’s view of how Africans should philosophize in African philosophy is aligned with Dladla’s argument that just like Western Philosophy describe the Wests’ human nature and experiences, African philosophy should be doing the same in Africa. It is such alignment and understanding that this paper seeks to achieve, that is, for the South African higher education to be decolonised and striped of its western traditions and have an authentic reconstruction of African. It needs to follow the rules and traditions of Africans, therefore embracing the nature and form of African logic, tradition and language. One must commend African philosophers who have been able to put their intellect to the service of the struggle and destiny of Africans (Higgs, 2003, 08) Their service has opened the door for the students at the University of the Witwatersrand and Cape Town to express the unhappiness and alienation that black students have endured at higher institutions which are meant to break down walls of discrimination and all forms of oppression including failure of the higher education to push forward the agenda of decolonization. The #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall only emphasised the calls put forward by African philosophers and African Renaissance scholars. The difficult conversation of understanding what African philosophy is has started and at this point those invested and dedicated to the work of Africa philosophy have to work towards using a realistic approach towards African philosophy in order to address African challenges. Thus, this section of the paper, discusses African Philosophy in an African context. Unfortunately, this will not be an easy task because I am an African and therefore, possess the insights to being African. Because of this I can share insights of what is to be an African in an African country, just like someone who is British can share their insights as genuine experiences of British people living in Britain. Whether, this is true or not, a question that could be asked is why the paper discusses African Philosophy in the African Context and not African Philosophy in general, whether in Africa or in Europe? The paper discusses African Philosophy in an African context because it is needed here in Africa. It is important here in Africa, because an African philosophy is expected to provide a service and philosophise not for its sake but for the development of an African identity which has been overshadowed by Western knowledge systems. African philosophy in African seeks to understand the origins of African(ism) or (ness) and their human nature. It speaks to philosophizing in African logic, language, traditions and experiences. African philosophy needs to be truly African, in Africa for it to be authentic to Africans first before it can be conceptualised by Europeans. Drawing from Wiredu (1998, 17) for as long as African Philosophy is still philosophised in the western forms and logics and traditions, it will not be able to address African challenges of decades of oppression, humiliation, discrimination and mental colonization, because it carries the energy and aroma of colonial power and discrimination. This means that if Africa philosophy does not decolonise itself first, strips itself of the colonial nature of the West then it will still be another form of African studies viewed through the lenses of Europe. African philosophy in Africa should prioritize Africans, it should reflect on the years of mental oppression and colonialism which has taught Africans that they cannot think logically and with reason. African philosophy needs to take ownership of what is African to redress, restore Africans people’s dignity and pride. Mostly, importantly, African philosophy needs to provide Africans with the tools to philosophize in their African state and sense and define themselves and their agenda according to their realities. African philosophy as a framework in the decolonization agenda should be self-love for Africans. We have seen the idea of addressing past injustices and pains of Africa’s colonial past in scholars such as Serequeberhan (1994, 43) who adopts a hermeneutical perspective on African philosophy in Africa. The author argues that Africans reflecting and redressing the past in what is traditional to Africa, will help them to seek to escape an enslavement to the past by using that past to open the future. Such an activity could be done through comparative analyses. A comparative analysis Wiredu believes is important for African philosophers, as they will have to be aware of their western traditions of learning and interpreting that information in their own languages and African context. In this regard, Serequeberhan (1994, 43) as cited by Higgs (2003) states that: “the discourse of African philosophy is indirectly and historically linked to the demise of European hegemony (colonialism and neo-colonialism) and is aimed at fulfilling/completing this demise. It is a reflective and critical effort to rethink the indigenised African situation beyond the confines of Eurocentric concepts and categories” (Higgs 2003, 10). Through the reflection and comparative process, African philosophers therefore have the responsibility to not only de-westernized themselves, but they also must philosophise as Africans.

9Higgs (2003, 11-12) asserts that to completely appreciate the distinctive features of African philosophy, it is also helpful to compare its method and execution with other systems of philosophy. Appiah (1994, 144) discusses the difference between African and Western philosophy being mindful of the attitude of the West towards Africa. Appiah (1994, 145) argues that the West considers the issue of what philosophy is ‘for’—that is, its social meaning and relevance— with intellectual and academic contempt. Undoubtedly, the West does philosophize in a different style and method from Africa, although this may be attributed to enormous resources and funding (Appiah,1994) & (Higgs, 2003). In other words, because of the years of perfecting philosophy, the West philosophizes differently or rather the West philosophizes from superiority and is concerned with perfecting philosophical discourse for its own sake, while Africa wants to use philosophy to address social challenges and remove what is colonial in the higher education space, as expressed by black students at the University of Cape Town thereby providing a student or scholar with an authentic African experience of being in the world.

10The paper accepts that African philosophy should in one form, or another render a ‘service’ as it potentially can if done correctly and that if it draws it strengths, logic, language and tradition from Africans. If it decolonises and strips away what is western in African philosophy and philosophises to address social stigmas, violence and inherited pain and loss of identity. Wiredu (as quoted by Anyanwu, 1989, 127) concludes: ‘... we will only solve our problems if we see them as human problems arising out of a special situation’. Thus, Anyanwu (1989, 127) affirms that African philosophy ‘invites people to take a stand on the issue of reality as experienced’. The paper concurred that our human problems are a special situation and our reality and experiences mean something. Our experiences as Africans should not be denied as legitimate experiences just because they are from Africa. It is also these experiences that help re-build indigenous knowledge systems and show how these knowledge systems could be of expression in contemporary Africa. Higgs (2003, 13) asserts that these experiences of an African reality give rise to a sense of commonality which finds expression in the discourse of community in Africa, and the African ethic of ubuntu.

11This paper accepts most of the African scholars’ conceptualization of African philosophy and what is expected to come out from it. However, we need to be mindful of the fact that decolonizing the South African educational discourse might prove to be extremely difficult because our South African “transformative ideologies & goals” have not been able to carry us through the reflection, redress and address process, which contextualise and address the experiences of the poor, marginalised and uneducated. One of the contextual questions to be addressed in (South) Africa is how we can achieve and implement a decolonised educational discourse, which will be reflected by educational institutions such as universities, as the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movement envisioned. I pose this question because some universities are government funded and to some extent report to the Department of Higher Education and Training and are expected to fulfil promises made by the liberation movement to build and open the doors of learning to all. This expectation was based on the understanding that the government made education (basic and higher education) a priority and should have allocated adequate resources to make education a public good rather than a commodity accessible to those who are financially privileged. The paper believes that African philosophy shall not be limited to reflecting, redressing and addressing socio-economic challenges only but African philosophy should also critically address and philosophise our uncolonized government, which our educational discourse is aimed at functioning in or rather provide alternative methodologies of decolonizing the educational discourse within a colonised state. I shall now turn my attention to the notion of decolonization and the South African educational discourse.

Decolonization and the South African Educational Discourse

12I shall now turn my attention to what the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movement aimed to redress and address about the colonial nature of historically white universities and years of studying Western norms and the way of life in an African university. There were several concerns which the students called to be addressed, but the most eminent challenges, were tertiary fee increases and a decolonised Afrocentric education. For the purposes of this discussion, it is important that I describe what the paper means by decolonization. Wiredu’s view of decolonization is a form of epistemological practice. Meaning decolonization is a practice of removing colonial nature and stripping away colonial knowledge in the African educational discourse. It is a form of washing away what is not needed or something that does not serve others. Fataar (2018, 02) defines decolonization as a philosophy which “eschews static knowledge orientations”. He argues that it is founded on a type of complex knowledge dynamism in fidelity to disciplinary and transdisciplinary foundations, and always alert to a type of problem-posing dynamism, writes Fataar (2018,02). While Sesanti (2019) was adamant in his argument that for decolonization to truly mean something, African universities must use ancient Egyptian ethics and history as a cornerstone of an Afrocentric decolonial curriculum knowledge approach. Heleta (2018, 48) states that ‘decolonization of knowledge implies the end of reliance on imposed knowledge, theories and interpretations, and theorizing based on one’s own past and present experiences and interpretation of the world’. There is consensus amongst scholars that decolonization is a form of epistemic practice which aims to strip away what is colonial in the African discourse; thus working towards an Africanised framework of African philosophy which renders a service to address contemporary social challenges and develop in Africa. For the purpose of section, I will employ Wiredu’s view of decolonization in relation to South Africa’s educational discourse.

13During the #RhodesMustFall movement, a student from UCT by the name of Athabile Nonxuba was interviewed by the News24 team to explain what students meant by decolonised education and why it was important for them. Nonxuba noted that the current curriculum was Eurocentric and dehumanised black students, he was quoted as saying “we study all these dead white men who presided over our oppression, and we are made to use their thinking as a standard and as a point of departure for our own thinking as Africans has been undermined”. He argued that we must have our own education from our own continent because decolonization can only happen if we take it upon ourselves to start the process. According to Nonxuba (2016) decolonization means advancing the interests of Africans, instead of advancing Eurocentric interests. Nonxuba (2016) as cited by News24 asserts that eurocentrism does not serve our interests culturally, socially and economically. It is not neutral; it only serves particular interests. For instance, the works of Karl Marx, which is considered worthy is offered repeatedly as a standard, instead of introducing new or even old ideas by Africans. White lecturers teach students African music and the base of music studies is classical European music. The curriculum does not accommodate creativity and expression in African languages. For example, drama students feel they are marked lower if they produce work in African language. Nonxula as cited by News 24 (2016) also makes an interesting distinction by arguing that decolonization of education is not the same as transformed education. While one may argue that these views may be from one student, it is worth noting that most students could relate to Nonxuba’s views hence, the #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall movement. The paper purposefully chooses to include Nonxula’s interview who is a student political leader because he did not only speak about what and how students feel about the nature of colonial power and oppression which they experience in “white” universities, he also spoke of the distinction between decolonizing education and transforming education, which is a profound distinction which has been overlooked. The distinction also showed that students understand the difference between the failed political transformation education we were promised by the African National Congress (ANC) after they were afforded political power and the new economic struggle the current generation finds themselves in and therefore question the education which has not “transformed” or offered them access to opportunities to which their white counterparts have access. .

14Furthermore, it is worth noting that there seems to be consensus in South Africa, with regards to the need to decolonise the South African education as part of a broader plan, to strengthen our educational system and, indirectly, our society and economy. Ramogale & Le Grange (2016) share the views that the need to decolonise our education comes out of a recognition that much of what is taught is a legacy from our colonial past, a past which was designed to entrench unequal power relations and privileges for a minority (Ramogale 2016). African knowledge and philosophising based on African logic, language and traditions is at the heart of this paper. This paper is of the view that what is required in Africa is a conceptual approach and languages of description that move the decolonising education debate towards consideration about the terms on which knowledge selection for a decolonial curricular approach ought to proceed. An approach that does not side-line and favour a certain aspect of ideology. The objective is to seek an approach/ methodology which brings forward an authentic African sense of African philosophy.

15As I write this article and reflect on the RhodesMustFall and FeesMustFall movement, I am reminded of the former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki who argued in a well-known speech, that South Africa still comprises two nations. The former President observed that South Africa is divided into two “nations”, the one nation is black and the other is white. According to Lesteka (2011,52) Mbeki (1998) made a case for South Africa as ‘Two Nations’, drawing on Sir Benjamin Disraeli’s (1980) novel Sybil, or Two Nations. He described one of these nations as white, relatively prosperous, with ready access to a developed economy, physical, educational, communication, and other infrastructures. The other he described as black and poor, with the worst affected being women in rural areas, the black rural population in general and the disabled, who live under conditions of a grossly underdeveloped economic, physical, educational, communication and other infrastructures. As a result, while blacks can exercise the right to equality of opportunity, they live in underdeveloped conditions and with little possibility of exercising their right to equality of opportunity.

16For making such a critical and necessary observation the former president was vilified. Nattrass and Seekings (2001) took issue with him for reducing inequality to race, that is, black equals poor and white equals rich. Nattrass and Seekings argued that by emphasizing interracial economic inequality Mbeki misunderstood the changing nature of inequality in South Africa. They posited that inequality in post-apartheid South Africa was driven by two-income gaps between an increasingly multiracial upper class and everyone else, and between a middle class of mostly urban, industrial, or white-collar workers and a marginalized class of black. In Letseka’s view (2011,53) Nattrass and Seekings glossed over South Africa’s racially skewed labour market in which whites continue to hold most skilled occupations and senior management positions while Africans continue to swell the ranks of juniors and support staff. Moleke (as cited by Lesteka 2011) argues that because of discrimination and acquired human capital ‘‘South Africa’s labour market is characterized by racial job segregation both between sectors and between occupational categories. Moleke contends that ‘‘Whites are still overrepresented in skilled occupations and their representation at senior management level is also relatively high’’. The point being made here is , twenty one years later, Mr Thabo Mbeki’s observation of two nations is still correct and evident not only in rural areas where the majority of people living there are uneducated but in higher learning institutions, financially disadvantaged youth of South Africa still feel excluded and marginalised. However, the promise of studying and obtaining a degree makes them believe that access to opportunities is through education. In this way they hope that they can help fight economic inequalities; occupy skilled and senior management positions, where they will have power and voice to influence change. But for most of us, reality is different, hence, the need for the youth of South Africa to re-group and begin a different struggle, a struggle of economic freedom and decolonization of education, power and authentic Africanism. The concerns raised by Nonxuba with the News24 team are legitimate and worthy of attention by educational institutions, government and the academic community at large. The concerns raised by the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movement were based on lived racial bias, instilled institutional exclusion of black African students, Eurocentrism curriculum which does not speak to black African people’s experiences and disregard or failure to acknowledge African phenomena. This is the kind of redress and decolonization in a true authentic African sense that Wiredu (1998, 17 - 18) insists is required in African universities and African philosophy.

17One of the commonalities which Africans continue to share is the understanding of unity in an authentic African experience. In the words of Diop (1962, 07), ‘... there is a profound cultural unity still alive beneath the deceptive appearance of cultural heterogeneity present in Africa which gives rise to certain commonalities in indigenous African knowledge systems.’ One of the commonalities Africans shares is the ideology of unity and community. According to Letseka (2000, 181) the importance of communality to traditional African life cannot be overemphasized. In other words, community in an African setting is what binds and provides a sense of belonging and shared goals within a people. The notion of a true authentic African philosophy, which has been decolonised from the western norms and traditions, could be a vehicle to push decolonization in educational discourse by redressing the current Eurocentric curriculum, by accommodating the traditional African life, inform and promote a collective effort directed at the good of the community. This collective effort in turn would be characterised by a spirit of ubuntu which is expressed by the combination of shared identities and solidarity; it is characterised by a relationship in which people identify with each other and exhibit solidarity with one another. To identify with each other is largely for people to think of themselves as members of the same group; to conceive of themselves as a “we”, as well as for them to engage in joint projects, coordinating their behaviour to realize shared ends Metz (2009, 352). For educational interests, this would mean that African educational thought and practice would be directed at fostering African logic, language and traditions; endowed with moral norms and virtues such as kindness, generosity, compassion, benevolence, courtesy and respect and concern for others. In support of Nonxula (2016) and Wiredu (1998) views on African-ness (South) Africans need to advance their own economic, social and educational interests by applying a pragmatic African or community centred approach where young people value diversity, unity, communalism, interconnectedness and acquire necessary skills for the (South) African job market (Lesteka ,2000). Such an approach according to Lesteka (2000) would mean that young people are part of communities, education discourse and job markets which fully embrace and value African-ness, understood as ubuntu. It is assumed that persons who aim to improve and strive towards better social, economic and educational discourse treat others with a sense of ubuntu, which entails treating them with fairness, shared goals and solidarity. This means, people who exhibit traits of ubuntu and African-ness share a relationship in which people identify with each other and exhibit solidarity with one another. The emphasis on communalism and ubuntu in African thought and experience also requires education in the African context to pay attention to interpersonal and co-operative skills (Higgs 2003,15).

18Furthermore, according to Higgs (2003, 15), for Africans, what they know is inseparable from how they know it in the lived experience of their African culture. This sense of African-ness is, has built a deep socio-ethical sense of cultural unity that provides the African identity with its distinctiveness from the West. I believe that the aim for a decolonized educational discourse at the end of the tunnel is to build what the former first black president, Dr Nelson Mandela aimed to see in South Africa, which was a diverse country, coined the rainbow nation. The #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movement called for more inclusion in the curriculum and expression of creativity in African languages. In other words, the South African transformation agenda should not only ensure that inclusive decolonization takes place but also serve as a reminder for both blacks and whites to always aim towards a more integrated African identity and the values of ubuntu.

19The purpose of the decolonised educational discourse in South Africa should be fundamentally concerned with ubuntu in the service of the community and personal wellbeing. In this regard Letseka (2000,188) also argues that interpersonal skills have been shown to be an integral part of educating for ubuntu and the promotion of communally accepted and desirable moral norms and virtues. The development of skills such as cooperative skills will, therefore, play a crucial role in promoting and sustaining the sort of communal interdependence and concern with the welfare of others that is encouraged by ubuntu. This sort of communal interdependence emphasises the fundamental principles of governing in the traditional African life (Higgs, 2003 & Lesteka, 2000). Thus, the paper endorses Okeke’s (1982, 56) idea where he argues that traditional education in the African context, sought to instil desirable attitudes, dispositions, skills and habits in children by means of recounting the oral traditions of the community. In this sense, African educational thought and practice is characterized not only by its concern with the person, but also by its interweaving of social, economic, political, cultural, and educational threads together into a common tapestry. And as a result, education in an Africa context will be distinguished by the importance attached to its collective and social nature, as well as its intimate tie with social and communal life. It will also apply to an authentic African education, which philosophises in African logic, language and traditions. Maintaining a sense that an African setting cannot, and indeed, should not, be separated from African life and experience. It is a natural process by which a person gradually acquires skill, knowledge, and attitudes appropriate to life in his or her community—an education inspired by a spirit of ubuntu in the service of the community (Higgs, 2003). Thus, the project of decolonisation in the educational discourse should speak to shared identities, goals and solidarity; engage in joint projects for the good of the people. For people to fail to identify with each other could involve outright division between them, people not only thinking of themselves as an “I” in opposition to a “you” or a ‘they”, but also aiming to undermine one another’s ends. As we have seen this is the outright division between #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall students, university management and the government. The ultimate aim for the improvement of African philosophy in the educational discourse is to improve and integrate Western and African knowledge systems. Inspire to build better and informed virtues of togetherness, interconnectedness and acting for the sake of others.


20In closing, the paper reflected on whether African philosophy, as a system of African knowledge(s), can provide a useful philosophical framework for the decolonization and re-construction of the higher education institutions. The focus of this paper included a discussion on the nature of African-ness as a philosophy of liberation, decolonization and dismantling institutional racism and power. I argued that an authentic African-ness should provide Africans with an opportunity to reflect, redress and address the legacies of colonial power in (South) Africa, by refurnishing our minds, providing access to economic freedom to all and redefining our socio-economic realities. Therefore, the pragmatic African-centred approach of African philosophy should not be limited to reflecting, redressing and addressing socio-economic challenges only but should also critically address the uncolonized state of government, which our educational discourse is aimed at functioning in and provide alternative methodologies of decolonizing the educational discourse within a colonised state. The project of decolonisation in the educational discourse should speak to African life experiences, improve and integrate Western and African knowledge systems. Inspire to build better and informed virtues of togetherness, interconnectedness and act for the sake of others.


21Anyanwu, K. C. (1989). The problem of method in African philosophy. In: C. S. Momoh (ed.), The Substance of African Philosophy. Washington DC: Brooking Institute.

22Appiah, K. A. (1994). In my father’s house: Africa in the philosophy of culture. New York: Oxford University Press.

23Beets, P. and Le Grange, L. (2005). ‘Africanising’ assessment practices: Does the notion of ubuntu hold any promise? South African Journal of Higher Education, 19(1): pp 197 - 207.

24Chetty. R. and Knaus. C. (2016). Why South Africa’s universities are in the grip of a class struggle. Sunday Times. Available from: link (accessed on 11 July 2019).

25Diop. C.M. (1962). The cultural unity of negro Africa. Paris: Presence Africaine.

26Diop, C. A. (1996). Towards the African renaissance: Essays in African culture and development. London: Karnak House.

27Diop B. 2000. “African education: Mirror of humanity” in, African voices in education, P Higgs, NCG Vakalisa, TV Mda & NT Assie-Lumumba (eds.). Cape Town: Juta.

28Dladla. N. (2017). Contested memory retrieving the Africanist (liberatory) conception of non-racialism Theoria, 64: (153), pp 101-127.

29Evans. J. (2016). What is decolonization? News24. Available from: link (accessed on 04 August 2019).

30Fajana, A. (1986). Traditional methods of education in Africa: The Yoruba example. In: J. Okpaku, A. Opubor and B. Oloruntimehin (eds.), The arts and civilization of Black and African peoples. Lagos: Center for Black and African Arts and Civilization.

31Gyekye, K. (1987). An essay on African philosophical thought: The Akan conceptual scheme. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

32Higgs. P. (2011). African philosophy and the decolonisation of education in Africa: Some critical reflections. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 44: (2), pp 37 – 55.

33Letseka, M. (2000). African philosophy and educational discourse. In: P. Higgs, N.C.G. Vakalisa, T.V. Mda and N.T. Assie-Lumumba (eds.), African voices in education. Cape Town: Juta.

34Lumumba-Kasongo, T. (2002) Reflections on the African Renaissance and its Paradigmatic Implications for Deconstructing the Past and Reconstructing Africa, Black Renaissance/ Renaissance Noir, 4:1, pp. 110 –120.

35Le Grange, L. (2016). Decolonising the university curriculum. South African Journal of Higher Education, 30(2): pp 1-12

36Makgoba MW, Shope T, Mazwai T (1999). Introduction. In M.W. Makgoba. (Ed). African Renaissance. Tafelberg: Mafube.

37Maloka, E. (2000). The South African ‘African Renaissance’ debate: A critique. In: E. Maloka and E. le Roux (eds.). Problematising the African Renaissance. Pretoria: The Africa Institute of South Africa.

38Metz. T. (2009). Towards an African Moral Theory. The Journal of Political Philosophy: Volume 15 (3), pp 321-341

39Muiu, M.W. and Martin, G. (2002). Fundi wa Afrika: Toward an authentic African renaissance. Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire, 4(1): pp 83 – 96.

40Masolo, D. A. (1995). African philosophy in search of identity. Nairobi: East African Educational Publishers.

41Nattrass.N. and Seekings. J. (2001). Democracy and distribution in highly unequal economies: the case of South Africa. Published online by Cambridge University Press. Volume 39 (3), pp. 471-498.

42Okeke. A. (1982). Traditional education in Igboland. In: F. Ogbalu and E. N. Emenanjo (eds.), Igbo Language and Culture. Ibadan: University Press.

43Ramogale. M (2019). Decolonise the curriculum for global relevance. Mail & Guardian. Available from: link (accessed 11 July 2019).

44Ramose, M.B. (2003). I doubt, therefore African philosophy exists. South African Journal of Philosophy, 22(2): pp 110 –121.

45Ramose, M.B. (2004). In Search of an African philosophy of education. South African Journal of Higher Education, 18(3): pp 138 –160.

46Serequeberhan, T. (1994). The hermeneutics of African philosophy: Horizon and discourse. New York: Routledge.

47Seepe, S. (2001a). Towards an African renaissance: The role and vision for higher education. Unpublished paper delivered at the Philosophy of Education Seminar, held at UNISA, 19 August 2001.

48Seepe, S. (2001b, October 21). Indigenous knowledge systems can benefit everyone. Mail and Guardian (Johannesburg). Available from: link (accessed on 30 July 2019).

49Teffo, L. J. (2000). Africanist thinking: An invitation to authenticity. In: P. Higgs, N.C.G. Vakalisa, T.V. Mda and N.T. Assie-Lumumba (eds.), African Voices in Education. Cape Town: Juta.

50Van Wyk. B. and Higgs. P. (2004). Towards an African philosophy of higher education. South African Journal of Higher Education, 18(3): pp 197–210.

51Wiredu, K. (1998). Toward Decolonizing African Philosophy and Religion. African Studies Quarterly, 1(4): pp 17 – 46.

To quote this document

Gugu Ndlazi, «A Critical Reflection of African Philosophy and decolonization of the educational discourse in South Africa», Jocap [En ligne], 2021, 1|21 Philosophy, Politics and Africanism, mis à jour le : 03/03/2021, URL :

Some words about:  Gugu Ndlazi

MA - Independent/Freelance Researcher