Mandela Rhodes Scholars
Mandela Rhodes Scholars

If you are serious about decolonising Africa, don’t study abroad

By Zinhle Manzini

In 2017 I will hopefully be registering for my PhD in philosophy. In thinking about this decision, I was charmed by the idea of doing my postgraduate degree abroad, hoping it would broaden my horizons as a scholar, an academic and as a person. Most academics that I have interacted with during my five years at university have greatly encouraged this decision. I have often been told that doing my PhD abroad would be a “wise move” or a ”great move” and that I ”should leave, but come back and contribute to the South African canon”.

I was really convinced by this idea – earlier this year I started looking at registration options and funding opportunities. I was in love with the idea. In my head this sounded like a great plan: submit my masters in February 2017 and by September 2017 I would be in England doing my PhD. This love was deepened when I looked at the ”superstar” academics at Wits such as Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola who holds a PhD from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich or Professor Lucy Allais who obtained her master’s degree and PhD at the University of Oxford. Even my current supervisor, Dr Edwin Etieyibo, holds a PhD from the University of Alberta, Canada.

So one would indeed nod with approval and encourage one to go abroad and broaden one’s horizons. Yet, I speak of this dream of going abroad in the past tense. This is because I came to the realisation that if I am serious about seeing transformation and decolonisation within our universities, then I have a duty to stay and contribute to the PhD output of South African universities.

I think that all of us who are serious about transformation and decolonisation have to stay. Going abroad and coming back should not be an option.

This is because if you go abroad and complete your PhD or masters there, you will still be reproducing the same pedagogy we are trying to dismantle in our ongoing efforts of decolonising our institutions. I think that had Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola, Professor Lucy Allais and the other “superstar” academics completed their PhDs in South Africa, Wits would probably have an even higher rating internationally. I say this because according to Carly Minsky’s article, the World University Rankings are broken down into five categories, namely: Teaching, research, citations, industry income and international outlook. I will only focus on three of these in making my point clearer.

1. Teaching
One of the teaching metric indicators contributing to these rankings is the “ratio of doctorate students to undergraduate students” and the second is the “number of doctorates awarded per academic staff”. So if we had more doctorate students and more doctorates being awarded in South African universities then surely this would place our universities at a better standing internationally?

On Friday Professor Adam Habib was the stand-in for Redi Tlhabi on Radio 702 and some of the callers voiced their concerns regarding the “standard” of higher education. I would respond to this concern by highlighting the fact that “standards” are not only influenced by the content that is taught but by the number of doctorate students and doctorate outputs.

2. Research
Here, we consider the quality and volume of research. Ideally when you are doing your PhD, you are greatly encouraged to publish your work in academic journals. Not only is this good for the scholar, or the canon, but this is good for the department the student is registered under. So when South African scholars are abroad, and they get published under their departments, these improve that specific university’s rankings and not their home country. Although it is great as a scholar to get international recognition, what is the point if a) People in your country may not get access to that journal and b) If you’re just increasing the research output of a foreign country and a foreign university?

3. Citations
Here, rankings are prejudiced by the number of times an academic’s work at the university is cited by a scholar. Minsky states that: “The greater the number of citations of a university’s work, the more likely that you will engage with scholars who are leading and expanding the discussions in the field. Put more romantically, research impact is a reflection of how much an institution contributes to the worldwide project for collective and collaborative understanding of the world. This contribution is both a measure of quality at a university, and a source of pride for both academics and students.”

Perhaps this point makes reference to the research bias that we as scholars uphold ie thinking that a scholar from Howard or Oxford is better than our own from Wits or UCT. But such a bias exists because we think that an institution abroad is better than our own, therefore anyone who is there must also be great.

The crux of the matter is that if we leave to complete our doctorates abroad, and not in our own countries, how will we improve our own university rankings? I know that rankings are not considered important by everyone, but we can’t ignore them. So I think that in the ongoing conversations on transformation and decolonisation we also need to address the importance of staying in our country and completing our doctorates here. I can foresee people saying that I am policing people’s choices, yet if we are serious (that’s if we are!) about our nation and are committed to seeing it grow, then maybe some policing is necessary.

Zinhle Manzini is currently registered for her master’s degree in philosophy at Wits as a 2016 Mandela Rhodes Scholar. She is a proud coconut from the townships of Kagiso and is always trying to navigate between the spaces of being an academic and a girl from kasi. A feminist, a reader, and a writer who’s sitting on an unpublished manuscript. She is also a director of Ward66 (a concept store in Kagiso) who loves baking and making smoothies.
Instagram @conflictedblackwoman or Tweet @ZinhleManzini

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    • DavyH

      Thanks for a well-reasoned set of conclusions and congratulations on your choice. You appear to be someone who can finally provide an actual answer to a question that has been overlooked in the furor surrounding the RMF movement’s actions: when decolonisation is placed at the forefront of the agenda, what does it actually mean? It appears to be a catchphrase without substance or real meaning, totally in line with the politics of protest but having no value in a world of practicalities.
      Most articles tout decolonisation as a must without ever defining it – surely it would be more palatable to a university’s leadership to be faced with a clear agenda than an ever-changing set of demands under a rather vague umbrella.
      Thanks in advance.

    • Iain Botha

      Please list me some ways in which you think a university can be ‘decolonised’. And don’t give me platitudes or catch phrases; I want to hear a concrete, pragmatic and real world explanation of exactly what you (and others like you) mean when you use the term ‘Decolonisation’. And is this ‘decolonisation’ limited to the arts/humanities or do you see the need to do so in the Sciences too? I’ve asked so many people for a simple, straight forward explanation, and I’m still as of yet to receive any convincing argument. It would appear it’s far easy to throw around a buzzword like decolonisation than it is to outline an actual plan.

    • Sibusiso Zikalala

      I almost agree Zee.I think there is a point to what you are saying but allow me to by way of asking some questions,suggest that that there might be something derailing about the line of argument.1,Do I need to obtain a PhD from an African university in order to be fundamentally African in my thinking(I take it that decolonization is fundamentally a state of being rather than a locational fact)?2,Do the means always justify the ends?It feels like you may be suggesting this kind of argument.I doubt the plausibility of this claim though.But pointed taken,going abroad is certainly slowing down an Afrocentric based agenda(by and large).

    • Waxfoot

      I have to disagree.
      This scholar has so many other agendas that the primary objectives of a PhD i.e. performing original and/or groundbreaking research, pursuing academic excellence, meaningfully contributing to and furthering the general body of knowledge, seem lost.
      University rankings, decolonisation (whatever that means- no cogent explanation has ever been put forward ), journal access and domestic vs. foreign research outputs, although all important, mean nothing if your research is parochial, unoriginal or substandard.
      All research is not created equal, and like it or not, the bar is often higher elsewhere.
      The best research is typically fostered in a collegial environment with access to adequate resources and working knowledge, where the student is surrounded by a strong academic framework, a culture of support from a critical mass of researchers and experts who are all pulling together in a concerted effort in their particular field.
      Depending on your field of study, that optimal environment might just not happen to be in RSA, and you need to be honest about that.

      Probably the notion I have the most problem is the idea that studying at a foreign university perpetuates the pedagogy of colonisation (whatever that actually means). Just because a university happens to be located in an (ex-) colonial country does not mean the institution automatically subscribes to the (ex-) colonial mindset. This is naiveté in the extreme and reflects a binary “us vs.them” mindset.
      I think the good folk in the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard , the entire Howard University in DC or the faculty at the London School of Economics might strongly disagree with you on that one.

      The best opportunity to broaden ones’s mind often takes a fresh perspective and being exposed and open to new ideas. There are also countless opportunities to collaborate between domestic and overseas universities for PhD candidates.
      There is no such thing as “African” or “Western” or “Eastern” knowledge; those are emotive constraining social constructs promoted by self serving politicians with hidden agendas that pervert free thought.
      There is only knowledge.

      The insular approach floated here resembles the laager mentality of the Nats to the great detriment of education and, well, everything else too.
      Sorry, but I think you are swimming against the tide on this one, Zinhle .

    • Waxfoot

      Yeah, have to agree.
      What exactly does “decolonisation” actually mean?
      All this time and energy spent on this enigmatic phrase.
      I’d love to see the 12 point plan.
      Until then, it seems it’s just pseudo-intellectual code for blanket, knee-jerk anti-Westernism.

      See Bert Olivier’s eloquent article in TL on this mess.

    • Kyle Mason-Jones

      Decolonization would be better served by not obsessively benchmarking South African universities against universities in the West, especially with metrics that are largely developed and maintained by western academics. You can never hope to achieve an African research agenda by aiming for citations in “international” journals.

    • The Mentor

      I always thought that ‘travel broadened the mind’ and I see no plausible reason why an African cannot study abroad and learn. I completed an MA (sorry, not a PhD) at an overseas university but my research was done in Zimbabwe with the aim of helping Zimbabweans to benefit from my work. My experience of anyone (black or white) who has travelled the world is that they are more learned, more experienced, more rounded, more developed, more mature than those who have never travelled and worked in different cultures. And why ‘decolonisation’? Why not ‘post-colonisation’? Whatever the wrongs of colonialism, Africa has had it and benefited immensely from it in many different ways. Now is surely the time to build on the benefits of the past, not to attempt (in vain) to destroy it for you cannot destroy history although there are many who will surely attempt to re-write it.

    • Zinhle Manzini

      Thanks for your comment Sibusiso. I think that most of your concerns are captured by Kgaugelo who responds to this article :( . In order to avoid repetition, please see the comments I made to his article.

    • Zinhle Manzini

      Dear Iain

      Firstly, I am going to refer you to two articles that respond to ‘what is decolonization’ , these articles Iain capture this “concrete, pragmatic and real world explanation” that you seem to be seeking. The first was written by some of the postgraduate students from WITS (Politics department) : The second article is by Professor A. Mbembe (

      Secondly, I certainly think that the question of decolonisation is not limited to the humanities alone. This is a project that is not particular to a single discourse ,so yes the sciences also need to be decolonized.

      I do think that in the ongoing conversations that we have had around decolonisation, as scholars (or atleast in the spaces I have been in) we have been very clear by what we mean and we have outlined the actual plan. Decolonisation starts with 1. Curriculum change, 2.Hiring of more Black academics, 3. Teaching methods, so forth.

    • Zinhle Manzini

      Please see my response to Iain .


    • Zinhle Manzini

      Thanks Waxfoot.

      I do believe that there is such a thing as “African” or “Western” or “Eastern” knowledge. I believe that we need to recognize and acknowledge that, purely because there has been an epistemic injustice done to African, Eastern and other marginalized schools of thought and ways of being. I will admit that I do not think that there is just knowledge. And this thinking influences the conclusions that were reached in the article.

      In stating that : “Just because a university happens to be located in an (ex-) colonial country does not mean the institution automatically subscribes to the (ex-) colonial mindset. This is naiveté in the extreme and reflects a binary “us vs.them” mindset.” I think that I am yet to be proven otherwise because when I look at most Philosophy departments in the various institutions, they seem to repeat the narrative that you want to deny. Please read the article by Jay L. Garfield and Bryan W. Van Norden ( .

      Please note that by no means am I stating that people should not interact with their international scholars. I am only against registering your PhD under an abroad institution. This does not mean that there shouldn’t be any engagement.

    • Paul Whelan

      The familiar case of politics overcoming the understanding that we all learn from each other. Study abroad and bring back the skills where they can (selectively) be used and applied at home.

    • Anton Pillay

      Lol. right on. One moment people are celebrating that UCT or UJ is ranked this and this by some Western Instituion, then protesting for its downfall the next? crazy

    • Anton Pillay

      Iain has made his mind up…no use trying to explain to a person like that

    • RSA.MommaCyndi

      I LOVE that you will be doing your PhD here. I do, however, fully recommend that you travel, if you can. It is sometimes like visiting other universes. The way other people think, what they find humorous, what is important to them, their way of seeing life … it is fascinating. To be horribly cliché, it opens your mind. It allows you to see things from different perspectives and challenges your beliefs. Some of your beliefs are validated and some you revise.

    • Waxfoot

      Fair enough, Zinhle.

      I am sure I would be far more receptive to your article if it specified “Philosophy” in the title; as it stands the inference applies to all academic disciplines.
      My field is medicine, and I think that’s probably where your and my perspectives diverge regarding “African” or “Western” or “Eastern” knowledge (which are social constructs) diverge.
      It’s perhaps far easier to measure tangible outcomes and test theory in my field.
      It doesn’t really matter where or who publishes the research, as long as the methodology is sound and the work is able to stand up to robust scientific scrutiny.

      I thoroughly dislike the term “decolonisation” because of it’s imprecision and emotive political undertones. There is also a tendency to assume that just because your field is undiversified and riddled by “Western” dogma, that that is the status quo elsewhere too.
      More nuanced analysis would be nice.

      I applaud your taking a stand and wish you the best.
      More power to you in addressing those deficiencies in your discipline.

      (BTW: your second link in your response to Iain is broken).

    • Iain Botha

      Funny Anton, you seem to know me, but I can’t ever recall meeting you

    • Smish

      You say African students contribute to oversees university rankings. For “decolisation” to be realised, wouldn’t African universities need to be attracting more international students. It doesn’t strike me as clever to boycott oversees study in order to achieve this. Why not go there and come back, and publish more research at local uni. Maybe you’ll bring some international students back with you to boost your university’s research citation numbers.

    • hiiq

      “so yes the sciences also need to be decolonized.”
      OK, which bits?

    • hiiq

      Actually the most serious ranking of universities is done by Shanghai University in China.

      No colonial folk in sight.

      It never ceases to amaze me how people would rather just make up a fact, than take the five minutes needed to find the facts.

    • Suntosh Pillay

      The second link works if the last character is removed, think it mistakenly got typed into the hyperlink.

      Re: knowledge in medicine, Waxfoot, I don’t agree with you.
      It DOES really matter where or who publishes the research, and certain methodologies are more privileged than others. Scientific scrutiny is not a neutral or objective term, it is privileged by Western epistemology.
      e.g. Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine have always remained marginalized in the mainstream medicine discourse… decolonization in medicine will involve foregrounding alternative ways of healing that have become co-opted or airbrushed out by pharmaceuticals and Western textbook publishers.

    • gc

      We go, to study.

    • Waxfoot

      Suntosh, I am not sure which medical journals you are reading. Can you provide some concrete examples of “airbrushing” ?
      While I accept there has and likely always will be bias in the peer reviewed system, that Big Pharma and political overlords will continue to influence and taint the process, and that inevitably there is greater influence and prestige in publishing in certain journals than others, might not the overriding reason that alternative medicine has not been accepted by the main-stream medical community be that the vast majority of remedies don’t actually work?

      The pace of medical advancement is breathtaking. Textbooks are typically out of date before they are published. Ivory towers crumble and are rebuilt – quack remedies, poor research and manipulated or doctored studies get exposed sooner or later because the results just don’t add up in the field. Our great HIV/AIDS medical experiment in this country serves as a perfect example.

      There is, for the most part, healthy robust debate and transparency in “Western” medical science: if a researcher has robust evidence that a current medical concept is flawed, he/she has the opportunity to challenge the status quo. For is this not the basic tenet of research: new ideas?
      Do we see that same dynamic in alternative medicine?

      I am not being disingenuous when I say that I would love to see more double-blinded placebo trials proving (or disproving) the benefits of alternative medicine in the mainstream medical journals….but such articles are like hens teeth.
      So if you are seriously proposing a different methodology of ascertaining whether a medical intervention (Chinese, Indian. “Western” or otherwise) actually works or not , then let’s have it please.

    • Jacob M T Tlokana

      Respect for you bokodo.
      Sister what you outlining here is true because in our country, especially us youth we have conceived this ideal that once you go oversea, your well learned and international competent forgetting that we still promote the same education Creed we claim to eradicate for the revival and modification of African one. Ngwana wa makasi the choice you took it set a precedent for us, mxm no actual I will follow because I also forsee intellectual growth within our kasis.