Decolonisation of higher education is perhaps one of the most hotly contested topics in the South African higher education sector since the 2015 national student protest. What makes it even more complex in the South African environment, as Professor Nokuthula Sibiya, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Engagement at MUT, points out: “the meaning of decolonisation within this context is yet to be agreed upon, especially because of the several discordant voices advocating different pathways for the decolonization project”.
Professor Sibiya was introducing Professor Dasarath Chetty, adjunct Professor at the Centre for Continuing Professional Education at the Durban University of Technology, who was presenting during the Faculty of Management Sciences’ public lecture on decolonising higher education on 12 December 2022.
Professor Chetty, who is a renowned sociologist and research and communications expert, described the core of what needed to be decolonised as the kind of higher education curriculum which elevates Western knowledge above all else.
“This notion of Eurocentrism still prevails. That continued from apartheid society into post-apartheid society. It is one in which Europe and the United States are placed at the centre of everything, and everything else is inferior. So, there is a sense of English being correct, and other languages being substandard; English is hegemonic. It is used as the language of the Academy, the language of business, and it is reinforced as the lingua franca,” explained Professor Chetty.
Professor Chetty identified three axes of coloniality. These are the coloniality of the body (social construction of race), the supremacy of European culture, and the coloniality of labour, which relates to the exploitation of people.
“Decolonisation then is essentially a process of undoing this system of coloniality,” said Professor Chetty. “It is an attempt to decentre European and American ideology and move to a polycentric worldview, a polycentric worldview that asserts the endogeneity of knowledge production and embraces global epistemologies emboldens Africans to bring culture and knowledge which was considered historically inferiority into current epistemic curriculum.”
This framing of decolonisation positions the university at the centre of undoing centuries of colonial domination.
Professor Chetty said that the “standard of a university is high enough when it can adequately serve the needs of the community for which it is designed”.