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VIDEO: Highlights from SOAS discussion on decolonising African universities

By Afikile Lugunya - Apr 28, 2017
VIDEO: Highlights from SOAS discussion on decolonising African universities

Three student leaders from the School of Oriental and African Studies Student Union (SOAS) in London, in the UK, visited the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) this week to discuss philosophies on a decolonised institution and curriculum.

The SOAS Students’ Union is an organisation run by SOAS students (University of London) and their campaign focuses on challenging social and structural inequalities and injustices.

The union began as a colonial project in 1916 to deepen Europe’s understanding of the Global South.

The discussion took place at the NMMU’s International Office Conference Room, which can only accommodate 20 people.

This did not go down well with some NMMU students as the topic was too broad to be discussed by just 20 people.

One of the students, Laurence Lwanga, said that he found it insulting for UK students to come to his institution to discuss his decolonisation.

“When I got here, I was confronted by a person, who said I had to RSVP to attend a conversation that is about my decolonisation, that is a problem in itself. I also don’t trust the place where the discussion is taking place,” he explained.

Although the university delights in itself being a ‘diversity’ institution, some students at the conversation said that they are offended by the term and agreed with the SOAS on having the term changed at some point.

NMMU celebrates Diversity Month every year where different cultures across the world are explored and showcased.

Pedro Mzileni, South African Students Congress (SASCO) President at NMMU said he strongly takes offence to the word ‘diversity’.

He said that the NMMU is wasting money by investing in such projects, which are not benefiting the students, adding that ‘Diversity Month’ should be changed to ‘Decolonisation Month’.

“At least, if there were decolonisation programmes in place, then there would be clear objectives in place,” Mzileni said. 

He further said that names like ‘diversity’ are what divided the nation in the first place.

“That is why today, we have citizens and subjects, public hospital and private hospitals, suburbs, and township – and they have the consistent eye to see, which colour they want, which gender they want and which class they want,” Mzileni explained.

Awethu Fatyela, also a student at NMMU, said that she saw the discussion as a waste of time because no one wants to research and write books for Africans.

“If we drop the Western curricular, whose books will we use?” she said.