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‘Colonial universities’ not dead in SA—deputy minister

The “colonial model of academic organisation” is still very much alive in South Africa, after 24 years of democracy and despite movements calling for decolonisation, the deputy minister of higher education and training has said.

Buti Manamela made the remarks at a conference on decolonisation at the University of South Africa on 15 October.

“These colonial academic organisations also include historical legacies of capitalism, racism and patriarchy as intrinsic to institutional cultures and practices in universities,” he told the meeting.

He said that decolonisation should start with “de-privatisation and rehabilitation” of university spaces, which includes changing all colonial names, iconography, and the curriculum. Manamela was scathing about the latter.

“It is common knowledge that curriculum content is predominantly Western, capitalist, heterosexual and dominated by European worldviews in South Africa,” he said.

While gains have been made, said Manamela, Western-dominated ideals still define South African universities: “Although student demographics at South African universities, particularly historically predominantly white universities, changed significantly, staff demographics have not changed in accordance.”

Manamela said South Africa and Africa must be the focus of research, learning and teaching, but that this does not mean isolating South African universities from the world.

“They have to be responsive to the constituencies they serve if they are to be relevant,” he said.