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Change the world


After being reintroduced by the #MustFall student movement of recent years, the higher education sector, in general, and Nelson Mandela University, in particular, have been grappling with the practical expression of Africanisation and Decolonisation in the system.

From left, Vice-Chancellor Professor Sibongile Muthwa, Deputy Vice-Chancellor People and Operations Luthando Jack, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Learning and Teaching Dr Muki Moeng and SRC President Student Representative Council President, Yiva Makrwede

While strides have been made in advancing this complex concept, there remain some critical gaps in its expression and, ultimately, how those in the university system are experiencing higher education against this backdrop.

This, and other contributions, were made during a two-day Africanisation-Decolonisation Indaba at Mandela University earlier this month, jointly hosted by the institution’s Africanisation-Decolonisation Working Group (ADWG) and the Transdisciplinary Institute for Mandela Studies (TIMS), in collaboration with its faculties as part of its Africanisation-Decolonisation Programme (AfDeP).

Framed by institution’s name change in 2017 and its Vision 2030 strategy that envisions a ‘dynamic African university’, the Indaba questioned what decolonisation does, and can, look like at Mandela University, and what it does, and can, look like through the lens of Mandela, the social figure.

In his opening remarks, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Engagement and Transformation, Professor Andre Keet said while it was not a straight-forward or focused journey, Africanisation and decolonisation of the University had emerged as a key and worthwhile pursuit for higher education system in South Africa and the African continent at large.

“Sometimes we are not all clear about what this all may mean and how it may find practical expression across the knowledge fields. In a system that is, to a large extent, defined by a kind of neoliberalism that makes social justice work difficult but not impossible,” he said.

“Sometimes we may not all know what this may mean for me, the individual; the system; communities; societies etc, and this is okay. As long as we make time – like at this event – to grapple with these questions and, in this engagement, see the options to change ourselves, renew our practices and, in so doing, contribute to institutional and system changes.”

Africanisation and decolonisation of the University is an apex project of Mandela University, in alignment with its Vision 2030 and continuing efforts towards meaningful engagement and transformation, as outlined by Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sibongile Muthwa, at her inaugural in 2018 and repeatedly thereafter.

In her contribution to the Indaba on 7 March 2024, during a panel discussion on Africanisation and Decolonisation through a Mandela lens: Towards a Dynamic African University, Professor Muthwa said that the University had, at least for the past two decades, already been on a social justice-oriented journey.

“When we launched the new name in 2017, we were asked – myself and the then outgoing Vice-Chancellor, Professor Derrick Swartz – by Council to think through ideas of what does that name mean for us, how we will walk in that name as the university,” she said.

“I must say we did not start from scratch. A great deal of work has been done by the University on matters of driving the University and its purpose towards the right side of history.

“What gave us a new edge was the renaming in 2017. After campaigning for many years, we now had it, and we then had to assess and discover the liberating potential of the new name and the transformative vista that it was giving us.

“We thus tried to think of ways on how we could animate the work in our new name from a multifaceted point of view. We referred to issues of leadership and governance, the moral courage that we would need to lead in this name, we spoke to issues of student-centredness, curriculum transformation, transdisciplinarity and quite a number of issues that would now define our character.”

In carrying out this extensive and complex work, many strides have been made in the areas Professor Muthwa mentions above, however, some gaps were identified by some in the system.

Student Representative Council president, Yiva Makrwede, expressed a concern that the work done with regards to Africanisation and decolonisation at the University was not felt by students on the ground.

Student Dumisani Booysen of the Black Lawyers’ Association society said: “These kinds of conversations don’t filter down to students. Decolonisation and Africanisation are nuanced concepts. [On the ground], student hunger is a real problem … we thus cannot discount the impact of such a disadvantage on student success. As the BLA society, we are doing what we can to render support to students in this regard.

“There also is not much unity among us, as students, because we are scattered. Therefore, through societies, we try to create groups … to help cope and adapt to the challenges we face – a lot of which are to do with funding.

“As an organisation, we would like to make sure that at the end of the day, through Africanisation and decolonisation, all students are able to succeed and have the necessary resources available to them.”

The two-day Indaba saw discussions on various aspects of the University’s efforts towards Africanisation and decolonisation through its scholarship across its faculties, including such topics as Africanising education in an AI-driven world, contributions to revitalising the humanities, decolonising business entities law and an Africanised approach to health sciences.

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777