Bert Olivier
Bert Olivier

‘Decolonisation’, the new ideology

Everywhere one looks today in South Africa you find a new imperative: “Decolonise!” In certain academic quarters it has evidently already attained the level of a new ideology, where academics are expected to “decolonise” the courses they teach (and presumably the articles they submit for publication as well). What astonishes me is that academics do not seem capable of resisting this new ideological drive – for that is exactly what it is: a new ideological movement (albeit a counter-movement) that has the structure of the Biblical requirement, to say “Shibboleth” with the “right” pronunciation, or else …

Yesterday while driving I was listening to an interview on SAfm with a professor of English language studies at one of our universities. He was promoting the project of decolonisation energetically, arguing that the vestiges of colonialism should be removed from university curricula. When the interviewer asked him whether the inclusion of the work of African thinkers like Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko in curricula is not enough to achieve this end, he retorted that one has to go further, to get to a point where people can discover “pride” in themselves. He was unable to specify what this source of pride would be, although his argument would seem to suggest (although he did not say this, as far as I recall) that it would be the uncovering of a pristine African cultural past.

It is not difficult to understand the reasons for this imperative to “decolonise” – every people who has ever been subjected to the coloniser’s oppressive and exploitative power would feel the need to throw off its yoke, as Fanon has demonstrated so forcefully in his writings. But is that not what African (and other) countries have done? Admittedly, when they attained their independence in the course of the 20th century they faced the task of living up to that “independence” by, among other things, finding their “own voices”. Broadly speaking, this could be understood as “decolonising” themselves, which is another way of saying that they have had to become independent in their thinking, speaking and writing.

This already indicates what form such decolonisation should take beyond the obvious political changing of the guard, namely the installation of new, African governments in the place of erstwhile colonial authorities. The most important, but also most problematic task facing a drive for decolonisation in the sense of finding your own “identity” in a distinctive African vocabulary, would seem to be the discursive-linguistic task of eradicating all traces of colonisation from the language that people use, for the simple reason that all ideology, including colonial ideology, is embedded in language as discourse. This is just another way of saying that colonisation, like other forms of ideological conquest, is (or was) about the imposition of power, as the mostly ignored, but yet very obvious, economic neo-colonisation of Africa by western corporations demonstrates.

Hence, any authentic decolonisation process has to rid itself of the power of colonising forces. How is this to be done? Certainly it cannot be done by returning to some mythical pre-colonial, “pure” African cultural “origin”, as it existed, unblemished by colonial influences before the arrival of colonisers on African soil, as I have argued on Thought Leader before. If it is a matter of “taking cultural power back”, it can only be done by doing for South African culture what the French do so well – prioritising the practice of French culture, even if American (and other kinds of) cultural imports exist side by side with it in France.

I don’t know of any sub-Saharan African sources or texts that predate the 17th century, when the Dutch arrived in the Cape. If they exist, I would be glad if anyone pointed me in the right direction to find them, because such texts – in other words, any kind of decipherable inscription, on any material – would probably constitute genuinely “African” cultural records or “texts” of some kind, as do San rock paintings in a certain sense. I specified “sub-Saharan” above, because there are several instances of texts from North-Africa that could be regarded as “African”, such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Arabic texts preserved in libraries in Timbuktu, or the texts written by thinkers from North-Africa, including St Augustine, Fanon, Albert Camus and Jacques Derrida – the latter being a thinker who was regarded as one of the leading philosophers in the world at the time of his death in France in 2004.

Those driving the (counter-colonial) ideological project of decolonisation would probably find little comfort in this, because all these thinkers, from St Augustine in the 4th and 5th centuries CE to Derrida, wrote in a western idiom – not as a gesture of disregarding Africa’s needs, but because that is the philosophical-theoretical idiom that they inherited from those who preceded them, and if there is one thing that is impossible to do, it is to invent an ABSOLUTELY new theoretical idiom, out of thin air. Invention always presupposes convention, as Derrida (among others) has shown (in Positions), even if he added that one is able to “shift the [epistemological] terrain” bit by bit, by engaging with the existing fabric of the sciences and disciplines.

If anyone believes that one could in fact “go back” to an original fountainhead of African culture, predating the advent of colonisation, the question to ask – already implied above – is: in what medium has this been preserved? If not in cultural artefacts of some kind, then in what else? It would be instructive in this regard to read some of Derrida’s texts, for example the long essay, “White Mythology” (in Margins of Philosophy – freely available for download), or his (Derrida’s) Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction.

In both of these paradigmatically deconstructive texts Derrida demonstrates the impossibility of returning to, uncovering, or repeating, an origin which is somehow “pure” – whether in the guise of a language uninhabited by metaphor (such as the dreamed-of language of western metaphysics; the “white mythology” in question), or in the form of Husserl’s hypothetical “first geometer”, who was responsible for executing the first geometrical “intuition” (regarding the calculation of the circumference of a circle, for example), which has to be repeated by every successive geometer, according to Husserl. What Derrida shows in detail regarding the latter phenomenological quest for geometrical purity – and here lies the lesson for the would-be project of “decolonisation” – is that, even if every successive geometer were to re-enact the geometrical “intuition” of the hypothetical first geometer, it would be unthinkable in the absence of a whole intervening tradition of geometry, which exists in the form of “writing”.

The implications for “decolonisation” should be clear: if the aim is to uncover the “original form” of African culture, it would be as impossible as it is in geometry to gain access to the “original” geometrical intuition, without an intervening cultural tradition. The giant leap across the African cultural tradition, intertwined as it is with western and other cultural influences, to the mythical source of pre-colonial African culture is impossible. One could imagine such a culture, of course, but it would be a hypostatisation. There are probably many records of African culture that date back to the early years of colonisation, but I’m willing to bet that they would be framed through western eyes, or – if rendered by Africans – by Africans in terms borrowed from western colonisers.

The news for those committed to the project of decolonisation is therefore not good. Unless they persist in deluding themselves, it is not a viable project. And if they do persist in their delusion, they ought to be reminded that it is an ideological project, burdened with the blindness that besets all ideological projects. Such blindness shows itself when those driving the project make statements like the following: “What is needed here is an epistemological paradigm-shift!” Reflection would reveal that the very statement is inescapably indebted to western theory: both “epistemological” and “paradigm-shift” are concepts fashioned in the workshop of western thought; the former among the ancient Greeks, and the latter – although also “originally” from ancient Greek philosophy – in the philosophy of science of Thomas Kuhn in his 1962 publication, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

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    • Bert Olivier

      What I could not add, given space-constraints, was that what I have argued here against the ideological project of ‘decolonisation’ should really be supplemented with a discussion of the very important, and necessary, discipline of postcolonial studies (history, theory, critique, etc.), which constitutes the intellectual space where the causes, reasons and deleterious effects of colonisation on subjugated peoples are, and should continue to be, addressed. The work of renowned scholars such as Gayatri Spivak (her work on the question, whether ‘the subaltern can speak’, is a classic in this domain), the late Edward Said (think of Orientalism), and of Homi Bhabha (particularly his very effective onslaught against the binary divisions on which colonial practices depend), stands as exemplars of the best kind of postcolonial critique, which remains relevant to any scholar interested in unmasking the effects of colonialism and colonisation. That said, I should reiterate that colonisation is far from over, but is not really addressed in a sustained manner, because it is misrecognised as ‘development’. Neoliberal capitalism is the present form of colonisation, where so-called ‘developing’ countries are economically colonised, made dependent on the ‘world-market’ and on bodies like the IMF, while their wealth is siphoned to overseas countries. If one wants to ‘decolonise’, the first thing to do is to lessen one’s dependence on multinational corporations.

    • Frik De Wet

      I really do not understand the drive to ‘decolonize’ our universities and curricula. There is no African version of engineering, mathematics, accounting, architecture, biology, chemistry etc etc. The curricula is universal and global. From China to America the syllabus is the same in the hard sciences.

      If you dig deeper and really press the proponents of this you will find that ‘decolonization’ is really just a veiled word for being against anything that is perceived to be white. Its a rally against white professors, faculty heads, lecturers and staff.

      The sad fact is even if students manage to scrape together the fees for their university degrees, they drop out the first year simply because after 12 years of schooling we are producing thousands of learners who do not even have basic literacy and numeracy skills. The perception is then that somehow blacks are being excluded, and we need to ‘africanize’ our universities as we have with our public schools. Of-course these lofty terms just mean drastically lowering our standards as we cant be held to ‘western’ or ‘colonial’ ideals.

    • Manu

      “I don’t know of any sub-Saharan African sources or texts that predate the 17th century, when the Dutch arrived in the Cape. If they exist, I would be glad if anyone pointed me in the right direction to find them, because such texts – in other words, any kind of decipherable inscription, on any material – would probably constitute genuinely “African” cultural records or “texts” of some kind, …”

      With that sentence you neatly demonstrated the limitations of how the westernized mind approaches the subject of decolonization. You make the very poor assumption that a people don’t know who they were and what they are because it isn’t written on a piece of paper.

      The folly of the westernized mind is to believe that anything that isn’t written down either doesn’t exist, has no force in the present or the future, or isn’t binding. And yet there is a rich oral tradition in many cultures that didn’t have written languages. People have been doing this since time immemorial.

      So when you say “The news for those committed to the project of decolonisation is therefore not good” it just smacks of cultural superiority.

      Yes you can throw around fancy words like “epistemological” and “paradigm-shift” or whatever and reference European philosophers to give your arguments a veneer of respectability. But while your doing that just keep in mind that Africans will be consulting their elders (the repositories of past knowledge) in the villages and rural areas and learning about how things used to be before Europeans arrived.

      Western culture is not the be all and end all of the African experience and those who are calling for decolonization aren’t saying that the authentic African experience should be rediscovered. It doesn’t have to be rediscovered because In the townships and rural areas Africans have been practicing their culture and traditions in spite of western cultural domination. What has changed is that Black South Africans are saying that their culture, traditions and world view should be reflected in all spaces, and as the dominant culture they correct in this view.

      When I am in Arab country I know that I am in Arab country. When I am in Japan I know that I am in Japan. When I am in Europe I know that I am in Europe. When I am in Kenya I know that I am in Kenya.
      South Africa is an anomaly in that a small minority culture still defines/restricts the cultural experience of the majority.
      Decolonisation is inevitable and it will take whatever form the dominant culture chooses it to take.

    • Dan Te

      Hi Bert!
      Usually you write a lot better than this. I’m confused enough that I got an account here to type this comment.

      Just a couple simple bullet points to avoid an essay:

      – Where are you getting that Decolonisation is about going back to a past before colonisation? Probably from the same people that think anarchists want chaos. Not everybody thinks of decolonisation in the same way, and you’ve done nothing to indicate that. This is a straw man for anybody I know who engages with these questions (and I know many). You can’t just say “If [decolonisation]’s aim is to uncover the “original form” of African culture” without suggesting that it isn’t, or you’re rhetorically tarring all decolonisation with the same brush. The question is far more complex (one example being that there is not a single ‘Africa’ to consider).

      – There are multiple engagements with the problem of language and the use of western idiom around the question of decolonisation – even in texts you must have heard of at least (Ngugi wa Thiong’o, anyone?). Nobody’s trying to invent an absolutely new anything. We’re trying to rid ourselves of the structural elements of colonisation that exist, insofar as possible, using our best senses of what we are and what our heritage is as a guideline.

    • Waxfoot

      Great post, Bert.

      “Decolonisation” has simply become an indefinable buzzword- more like a fuzzword.
      There seems to be complete lack of precision or consensus as to what decolonisation means or how it is to be applied.

      When challenged, the proponents’ response is typically defensive and emotive knee-jerk anti-Western dogma- hardly the stuff of constructive debate.
      The wholesale dismantling of “Western structures” like University curricula and their perceived “vestigial colonial” academia without any cogent vision of a viable alternative seems shortsighted in the extreme.

    • Paul Whelan

      Decolonisation is a political project, not a worthy philosophical one. Fuzziness and flexibility are essential to it, so that it can mean anything anyone wants it to mean.

    • Bert Olivier

      Manu – Nowhere did I imply or state that people do not know who they are in the absence of a written tradition (although you would struggle to find such a people today, except in remote desert or forest regions) – your argument is a pseudo-argument anyway, because the African people have had a written tradition for a considerable time; most cultures have oral traditions in addition to written ones, not only African cultures, as you rightly remark. And it is not only in the West that the cultural tradition, since Homeric times, has been a written tradition; in the countries of the East this is also the case. Besides, my argument does not concern the difference between oral and written traditions; it concerns the drive for decolonisation, which is underpinned by a logic that suggests the possibility of removing all colonial vestiges from African culture – this, in my view, is impossible because of the intertwinement of African and many other cultural strands in the course of the last (more than) three centuries.

      Dan – I do not have the space to go into all the different varieties of ‘decolonisation’ – you seem to know more about that than I do (why don’t you write a blog on it for Thoughtleader?). I merely focused on the argument that must, in its most ‘skeletal’ form, be presupposed by all the efforts at decolonisation, namely, that beyond all the entanglements of western, eastern and African cultural strands, ‘decolonisation’ must, of necessity, presuppose an African culture free from all the later additions to it. This ‘pure’ version of it is unattainable. If you read my piece again you will probably grasp my argument better. I have no problem with resistance against ‘colonisation’ in the sense of other agencies wielding power over one, by the way; I engage in it all the time, in the sense of resisting the attempts of others to dictate to me how I should think and act. If that is what you understand by decolonisation, no problem – just do yourself a favour and ask what the biggest source of (neo-)colonisation is today.

      Waxfoot and Frik – The reason why I found it necessary to write this short piece on decolonisation is because there are signs that the drive to ‘decolonise’ (curricula, etc.) at some universities has taken an ugly ideological turn – a bit like what happened in the US during the time of blacklisting people who were suspected of having communist sympathies. And I believe that, unless academics arm themselves with good arguments against this mindless drive, they could well be scapegoated and victimised on spurious grounds. My comment on postcolonial studies (already posted here) should be read in conjunction with this, of course.

    • Richard

      This reminds me of the thinking behind the move in garden-design in South Africa to remove all alien species and only use indigenous plants. The superficial thinking is similar, but it is only superficial. Decorative plants can be replaced: daffodils and tulips can be changed for proteas and strelizias with not much more than an aesthetic mood-change. But what about imported species such as wheat (from the Levant) or maize (the Americas)? Would black South Africans consider putu to be a dish imposed by the coloniser? Or how about umnqushu, made from two alien food varieties, maize and sugar beans, both from the Americas? For a non-food example, how about “traditional” Xhosa clothing? It is only “traditional” to the extent that cloth was brought to South Africa by Europeans: the real indigenous pre-colonial dress is skins and hides.

      Africans (or, rather, black South Africans with particular ideologies) have a very narrow view of history. Movements of people (including latter-day mass illegal emigration of black Africans to Europe to escape poverty and oppression) has been an historical phenomenon for centuries. The presence of black Africans of the Bantu-speaking groups in southern Africa, is testament to that. Their indigenous homeland is the Great Lakes region. The original occupiers of southern Africa were displaced (the word genocide has been used by various experts on this migration), but left cave paintings and traces of their language embedded in the languages of Xhosa and Zulu.

      The whole of Europe was colonised by Rome, and Britain by wave after wave of interloper, from the Scandinavians, to Germans, to the French. Each group left its imprint there, which is why English has such a large vocabulary. Should there be a concerted effort to remove all French and German words from English to decolonise the language? Should France attempt to de-Latinise its language? No! These people build on the past, rather than bemoan it, and incorporate what is helpful. Roman roads are still used, with modern macadamised surfaces of course, and in places like York, Roman sewers are still in use, and their design was copied. Architecture still replicates what was taken by the Romans: there are still pediments and architraves, columns and tiles.

      The real issue here is a simple one, and one that we have seen before in South Africa. In the National Party days, South Africa had to be “de-Britishised” to allow a “pure” Afrikaner South Africa to emerge. This took many forms, such as the necessity for a republic to be constituted, and even the names of public holidays to be changed (Boxing Day became “Day of Goodwill”, for no other reason). In this way, hegemony could be made complete. “Decolonisation” is simply the removal of any obstacles to such complete hegemony. It exists only within the social sciences and humanities, as Bert says, because it is not actually able to be reified. Real decolonisation would be the replacement of the staple foods, the sciences, and the mathematics with superior African versions. These things don’t exist, and so it reveals itself as nothing more than a power play. The fact that academics embrace it is more-or-less proof-positive of that. Each political era makes its demands, which academics are pleased to accept (allowing the odd head to roll), whether in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, National-Party South Africa, and now ANC South Africa. Most aspects of the social sciences and humanities are simply the dressing-up of prevailing ideology, in my experience. Academics provide the intellectual excuses for the politicians.

      The example you cite of geometers is very apposite. It is only by building on the efforts of those who preceded us that there can be forward movement. South Africa, like the rest of Africa, is more interested in entrenching power. This “decolonisation” movement is in reality nothing more than Don Quixote tilting at windmills, whilst the rest of the world concentrates on finding cures for diseases, ensuring safety in food supply, or exploring the outer reaches of the Solar System and beyond.

    • Richard

      Because you disagree with what Bert wrote doesn’t mean it is bad writing. As you say, decolonisation means different things to different people, and presumably he is writing from a South African context.

      What are “the structural elements of colonisation”?

    • Waxfoot

      Indeed, Bert.
      I concur with the McCarthy-esque feel around this issue. There is a suffocation of debate around this issue; a biniary “you are with us or against us” dogma which closes down space for any meaningful discussion.
      It seems that any questioning of the decolonisation ideological drive seems to be branded as anti-revolutionary talk peddled by anti-African 5th columnists. At worst, it reeks of intellectual “ethnic cleansing”.
      To me, this is the antithesis of academic freedom of thought.

      I also agree that the ideology is myopic as well as fuzzy: universities and their academia are easily targets and convenient political scapegoats.
      And all the while, the overarching neoliberal juggernaut colonises us all.

    • Barry Saayman

      “When the interviewer asked him whether the inclusion of the work of African thinkers like Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko in curricula is not enough to achieve this end, he retorted that one has to go further, to get to a point where people can discover “pride” in themselves.” – Prof Bert Olivier

      I think the SAfm professor misses the point:-

      “Decolonising the Mind: the Politics of Language in African Literature (Heinemann Educational, 1986), by Kenyan novelist and post-colonial theorist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, is a collection of non-fiction essays about language and its constructive role in national culture, history, and identity. The book, which advocates for linguistic decolonization, is one of Ngũgĩ’s best-known and most-cited non-fiction publications, helping to cement him as a preeminent voice theorizing the “language debate” in post-colonial studies.[1]”

      The paradoxes of national liberation (Prof. Walzer | Paradox of liberation: secular revolutions and religious counter-revolutions #KPLivenclude/ The Paradox of National Liberation: India, Israel, and Algeria) include the fact that few former colonies in sub-Saharan Africa could reclaim their vernaculars, identities and religion. I wonder whether they can in fact claim to be independent in any material or other way from Europe.

      Given normal acculturation, Afrikaners in SA, China, India and North African countries such as Egypt succeeded to a much bigger extent with cultural over and above political and economic decolonisation. That is why the ongoing Anglicization of Afrikaans universities is in my opinion an unwelcome form of recolonisation.

      The Constitution, 1996 that acknowledges 10 monarchies (12 including Swaziland and Lesotho) and the “right of self-determination of any community sharing a common cultural and language heritage; within a territorial entity in the Republic…” with sections 143(1)(b), 211, 212, 219(1)(a) and 235 is in my opinion on the right track.

      People must be exactly who they want to be to stay emotionally healthy and for this reason neither Anglo nor African cultural assimilation/appropriation should be forced on anybody.

      Among others the Anglicization and/or Africanisation of already totally decolonised Afrikaans universities is therefore unacceptable regression. Look at those universities, before Anglicization, if you want to know how a well-functioning African post-colonial African university should look like.

    • Barry Saayman

      “So when you say ‘The news for those committed to the project of decolonisation is therefore not good’ it just smacks of cultural superiority.”

      I agree. Prof Bert Olivier’s column under discussion is in more than one way problematic to me.

      The unjustifiable approach regarding the unavoidable ongoing clash of cultures in a multi-cultural/multi-ethnic society is culture and race denialism. This is in my opinion the unconstitutional and short-sighted approach of those that have either Anglo or African cultural assimilation/appropriation in mind.

      The constructive justifiable approach in dealing with conflicts of interest is in my opinion punctuated by among others the promotion of tolerance for diversity and a healthy realisation that all cultures are equal, albeit different, and therefore worthy of examination and protection.

      I realised this basic truth again when watching the Ron Fricke film ‘Samsara’ filmed over five years in 25 countries around the world.

      “When I am in Arab country I know that I am in Arab country. When I am in Japan I know that I am in Japan. When I am in Europe I know that I am in Europe. When I am in Kenya I know that I am in Kenya. South Africa is an anomaly in that a small minority culture still defines/restricts the cultural experience of the majority.”

      I disagree.

      When sensitive people find themselves in any of the 10 South African monarchies / kingdoms (12 including Swaziland and Lesotho) on communally owned ancestral land promoted and protected by among others Sections 6(2), 29, 30, 31, 143(1)(b), 211, 212, 219(1)(b) and 235 of the Constitution, 1996 they most certainly know that they need to respect the traditional leadership, the traditional way of life and the knowledge systems of the various peoples.

      These traditional cultural societies and only they determine who they are and who they want to be.

      I admire and respect their tenacity in the face of ridicule…

      Due to valid land claims the real estate (read millions of hectares of some of the best arable land in South Africa) already under the control of the traditional monarchies will predictably increase rapidly over the short and medium term.

      “Decolonisation is inevitable and it will take whatever form the dominant culture chooses it to take.”

      Which one or more of our local 12 African vernaculars/cultures do you regard as (i) nationally and/or (ii) regionally dominant?

      Decolonisation of the mind is a complicated issue and the objectives must be clear if one wish to succeed. Indians, Chinese, North African counties and Afrikaners know exactly what it takes to protect/reclaim a threatened identity.

      Those that promote Anglo monoglottism in terms of the obnoxious, racist, seditious, and communist inspired National Democratic Revolution and wish to replace so-called Anglo cultural dominance with black cultural dominance is clearly intolerant of diversity. That is a pity. It is dangerous if leading South Africans truly wish to go back on the words of late Pres NR Mandela in the Treason Trial dock:-

      “When Barnard’s team raised the issue of Mandela’s alleged sympathy for communism and his refusal to break with the Communist Party, Mandela replied that while in his youth he had found aspects of communism attractive, he was not a communist. Yet he refused to break with the SA Communist Party, the ANC’s main ally: ‘If I desert them now, who have been in the struggle with me all these years, what sort of ally would I be to you or to the government?’ He answered his own question: ‘[People] would say that Mandela is a man who turns the way the wind blows; he is not to be trusted.’[25] It was a shrewd answer that was difficult to counter.[26]

      The officials also explored other issues. Was the ANC genuinely interested in a peaceful settlement? Mandela made it clear that majority rule was non-negotiable, but added that the new system had to be balanced and that it had to ensure white domination would not be replaced by black domination. ‘Minorities have a legitimate interest in security,’ he said.[27]” Public lecture by Prof Hermann Giliomee, May 4 2015; SA History Online;

      I will not allow anyone to force any kind of cultural appropriation on me. Afrikaners never agreed to anything of this nature and never will, for the very same reasons that you also object to this unwelcome phenomenon.

    • Rory Short

      I am afraid you are probably correct, ‘decolonise’ is the result of mis-diagnosing the source of the problem which is the appalling state of much of our public education system after 20 plus years of ANC government.

    • Rory Short

      Spot on Ben, you’ve said it.

    • Rory Short

      As I see it the problem we all should be pre-occupying ourselves with is what are things that make me a good human being it matters not what my language, cultural background, etc., etc. are.

    • Jessica

      It’s more than an ideology. It’s the latest and most blatant euphemism for the ANC and their interlopers’ policy of reverse racial discrimination, and reminds one of the many euphemisms the Apartheid regime dreamt up to hide their creed’s inhumanity: Eie sake, Pluralism, Separate Development, etc.

    • Bert Olivier

      Richard – thank you for that very illuminating contribution.

      Barry – I never claimed any cultural ‘superiority’ for western culture. Cultures are different, that’s all, and to compare them in terms of superiority or inferiority implies a measure or yardstick of some kind. Thus you might argue that one culture is technologically superior to another, but the latter may be superior to the former in terms of a sense of community, for instance. Many people might argue that the West is clearly superior to other cultures, technologically speaking, but when one looks at the ecological costs of western technological development, which might actually wipe out life on earth, it casts such vaunted ‘superiority’ in a rather negative light. There is no absolute criterion to ‘measure’ this; hence comparisons to determine superiority are pointless.

    • Chris2

      It is clear from the comments that minorities are slowly, and rather belatedly, waking up to the juggernaut of Black Neo-Colonialism (BNC), which has been advancing apace since Mbeki. This policy of total domination, without regard to the rights and wishes of minorities, is common to black political groupings, be they ANC, EFF or whatever. Whether “Transformation”, “BEE”, or student unrest, total domination in every sphere (even the private sector) is the object and it is stated nicely in Manu’s comment. Of course, “Rhodes had to Fall” to give an anti-colonialist flavour, but the anglization and anti-Afrikaans (and Afrikaner) sentiment is straight from the Milner and Rhodes school. As in the confrontation between British and Boers one finds ‘hensoppers’, mostly among the academics, who try to justify the total anglization of tertiary education, which should also be (miraculously) freed of ‘un-African’ content. All this negates the binding accord by which the new South Africa came about, and also the gist of the Freedom Charter.

    • Nyna Amin

      Hi Bert, I totally disagree with some parts of your argument. It may have to do with its decontextualized take on decolonisation. From my discussions with you, I know that it pertains to particular institutions so it is unfortunate that you chose to write this post in a generalised way. Those of us who are engaged in the decolonization project see it as a strategic intervention to release the mind from the stranglehold of apartheid and the pseudoscience of eugenics on the psyches of Blacks. And perhaps it speaks to my own history of wresting my mind from the aberrations of apartheid, the low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority. It is a struggle to reclaim dignity, respect and self-worth. Often the psychological agenda is sublimated in overt actions and discourses that misdirect decolonial intentions.

      This is not the first endeavour to displace a powerful set of beliefs or practices. We are well aware of the battle between science and religion, the Falo del Vanita (bonfire of the vanities) of 1497, and the French policy of assimilation in Africa, to name a few. The illogic of those assays did not endure. At some point rationality restaged a return. I suspect a similar occurrence is at play. Various attempts are being made at decolonisation, some good, some suspect. After all, there is not a singular ‘decolonisation’; there are multiplicities. Following Laclau, we see here discursive articulations of an empty signifier. So, Bert, you and I are in a battle to fix the meaning and interpretation of decolonisation.

      While I do not support the insensitive, nay, stupid attempts to use decolonization for political and self- interest, particularly by those whose minds are deluded, I do think it is necessary for various efforts to continue so that they may be‘falsified’. Those that are illogical will fade and those that are productive will endure. The idea that ‘everything that is white or western is bad’ will also not survive especially when one considers what this could mean in practice: no Christianity, technology, motor vehicles, high heel shoes, branded products, brick and tile homes, modern appliances, television and films, etc. Yes, it may result in some discomfit for some but when one place this in the context of centuries of undignified being than it appears to be a small price to pay. I think that rather than decolonization, (not because of the irrational search for origins), proponents will eventually stumble upon deconstruction when they identify the paradoxes, contradictions and ironies inherent, in philosophical or even pragmatic revisioning.

    • Barry Saayman

      “Barry – I never claimed any cultural ‘superiority’ for western culture. – Prof Bert Olivier

      You surely fooled me Professor. I truly don’t know how to interpret the subtext of your column as well as among others you’re following remark in any other way:-

      “Reflection would reveal that the very statement is inescapably indebted to western theory: both ‘epistemological’ and ‘paradigm-shift’ are concepts fashioned in the workshop of western thought; the former among the ancient Greeks, and the latter – although also “originally” from ancient Greek philosophy – in the philosophy of science of Thomas Kuhn in his 1962 publication, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”

      It smacks in my opinion of Western Superiority.

      “Many people might argue that the West is clearly superior to other cultures, technologically speaking, but when one looks at the ecological costs of western technological development, which might actually wipe out life on earth, it casts such vaunted ‘superiority’ in a rather negative light.”

      Now I agree with you albeit for other reasons.

      Fact is cultures are equal but different and cultures or civilisations (is it the same thing and if not, what is the difference?) clash when they are forced to share the same spaces – the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ – Samuel Huntington, has reference.

      Not even the outspoken Europeans apparently know how to deal constructively with this uncomfortable truth – think nation states and Swiss cantons.

      Separation/segregation seems globally to be the default solution but it is due to ‘annihilation of distance’ (Arnold Toynbee) clearly only a temporally arrangement. Human kind must find new solutions to old problems or we will self-destruct.

      E.g. some of the very same hypocrites that forced a single unitary state on South Africa are today campaigning for a two-state solution for Israel.

      And it is the very same people (read e.g. Anglo American liberals) that will never accept Africanisation and indigenisation (read African cultural assimilation/appropriation) whilst paying mere lip service to concepts such as “reconciliation” and “nation building”.

      They are the ones that are against “decolonisation” of English language universities and you are unfortunately also on this bandwagon.

      I repeat – Afrikaans universities, prior to Anglicisation – are decolonised universities and a suitable model for the future.

      (E.g. when will the British jingoes occupying the “last British outpost” in KwaZulu-Natal form one nation with the Zulus and respect the Zulu monarch protected by among others subsection 143(1)(b) of the Constitution, 1996 as their king?)

      The Free State University and other Afrikaans universities should in my opinion lead the way towards inclusive nation building and must, for starters, rid themselves of those supremacist (read racist) professors that wish to force unconstitutional Anglicisation and the Anglo American model of monoglottism on bilingual Afrikaans speakers.

      Triumphalists are intolerant of diversity and that is unforgivable in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society such as ours.

      Afrikaans speakers and others have a right to choose Anglo cultural assimilation/appropriation and their choice must be respected. But they have no right to force their choice on others.

      Finding a new way forward is not going to be easy and we will find out just how difficult it is in the years to come.

      But when anyone looks down on local cultures/vernaculars, including Afrikaans, they must face censure. They are out of line.

      Diversity should in my opinion be respected and celebrated – Baraka is another film that in my opinion celebrates diversity.

    • Bert Olivier

      Thanks, Nyna, for being honest, as usual, and for providing constructively critical comment, but I believe that we are talking about two different things. What you are talking about is – in my terms – simply resisting the tendency of a dominant discourse to subjugate people to its hegemony, and I believe that the best defence against such a tendency of a dominant discourse (the ‘colonial’, here), to ‘speak’ those subjected to its imperatives, is to position oneself against it by means of a counter-discourse, such as the postcolonial, or feminist (in relation to patriarchy) discourse(s). I think that ‘decolonisation’ is the wrong word for that project, simply because, as I tried to show in this post, its underlying, if hidden, logic is the drive towards an unattainable ‘origin’ or source. I happen to support and promote “the release of the mind from the stranglehold on the psyche” by whatever discourse(s) claim hegemony – if that is what you understand by ‘decolonisation’, I am all for it. But the shape it assumes when academics are expected to ‘purify’ their courses, etc., is misguided because of what it presupposes – which is what I try to spell out in the piece. I prefer ‘postcolonial studies’ (don’t know if you read the piece I added below the original post on this), which can proceed deconstructively or genealogically, for instance. It may seem strange to you, but because I was always intuitively opposed to apartheid – even when I could not, at a young age, articulate my reasons for this – I, too, had to struggle to rid myself of the stranglehold of apartheid discourse, but I never thought of it as ‘decolonisation’. Rather, it was a matter, at the time,of resistance to an unacceptable ideology, or what today I would describe as an invidious discourse.

    • Anton Pillay

      that’s a true story!