UJ’s Pan-African Pantheon a step in the right direction to decolonise curriculum

Over the long Youth Day weekend (16 to 18 June 2017), the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Arts Centre in Auckland Park was abuzz with the spirit of Pan-Africanism from scholars, activists, and publishers from different parts of Africa and its diaspora. At the centre of the conversation was the revival of Pan-Africanism and decolonisation with topics ranging from historians, sociologists, musicians, activists, economy, reparations, the rise-fall-and-rise of Pan-Africanism, politicians, the literati and a competitive global Africa, among many topics. All these discussions sought to introspect the notion of decolonisation and decoloniality of the UJ curriculum and other national and continental universities.

With a jam-packed programme, a diverse group of 35 external scholars from the Caribbean, US, England, and some African countries engaged with the audience over topical Pan-Africanists who contributed immensely to the history and development of Africa and its diaspora, both in Africa, Europe, America and Asia.

Among the prominent speakers at the conference, were Former Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Professor Arthur Mutambara, Dr Bongani Ngqulunga from the Office of the South African Presidency, Dr Mosibodi Aaron Mangena, Former Minister of Science and Technology in South Africa, Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor: The University of the West Indies, and Prof Ihron Rensburg, Vice-Chancellor and Principal: UJ, among many others.

Speaking on The rise, fall, and rise of Pan-Africanism, Prof Mutambara had this to say about Africa and its leaders: “Under globalisation, national competitiveness…and attractiveness is so yesterday. We are now talking about regional and continental competitiveness and attractiveness. How is SADC attractive? An investor in Japan does not want to know how Botswana is attractive – it’s the whole region that should be attractive. South Africa cannot be attractive to investors if Zimbabwe is misgoverned. Botswana cannot be attractive if Mozambique and Zambia are unattractive.

“Let us understand this; that under globalisation numbers make a difference. And the reason why the leaders don’t want to integrate, is because they want to be presidents… a president of 10 million starving people, they are not ready to be a minister under ‘Africa integration’. We also need to change the way we understand measurements, GDP, PCGDP, not enough – think about the size of [the] middle class, think about cellphone penetration, think about [the] length of tarred roads, think about power per capita, think about water per capita, think about the number of dams in Malawi, the number of power stations, we must think about the number of different things that we need to run economies. Measurements and metrics that will allow us to develop the African continent are necessary.

“Women in Africa are better leaders than men. I hope you have seen the research. So, why don’t we allow our women to be equal citizens and run countries? When you don’t empower women, you’re undermining half, if not more than half, the population. In our African agenda, let us see the space of empowering women and young people. The 21st century is rooted in entrepreneurship and technology – why don’t we as Africans leverage the power of ICT to liberate ourselves… and bring about the Pan-African agenda? All these are opportunities,” said Prof Mutambara.

Prof Mutambara said that Africans will not be respected until Africa has done well as a continent. “I cannot be a superstar until my country is a superstar economy,” he said.

Speaking on Pan-Africanism: The case of reparations, Sir Beckles said: “There can be no sustainable development without land. There can be no progressive development without the just redistribution of wealth and the confrontation of structures of wealth that were built upon criminal accumulation. Reparations and reparatory movement is progressive, it is humanist, it is non-racial and no-sexist, it is a call for accountability. I have no doubt looking through the lens of history that you cannot built a modern nation upon the proliferation of ghettos,” said Sir Beckles.

UJ’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Ihron Rensburg, presented a paper on Global Africa: Imagining a new future. Prof Rensburg highlighted that the process of decolonisation will not be achieved overnight. He suggested a methodological approach that is pinned on “the activation of individual and social agency in contrast to assimilation and mimicry in the intellectual and social landscape. This commences with self-awareness; which leads to self-conscious behavior and human agency. I think it is a fundamental step on this journey; we don’t just wake up one morning and we offer a new set of insights. I believe this is the essential process of becoming, the purpose of which is to reignite or reconnect with one’s source of existence, and which is the process of becoming an unapologetic and confident global Africa,” said Prof Rensburg.

More specifically, the intellectual thinking and contributions of the following 35 historical and contemporary figures were assessed during the conference: Edward Blyden, WEB Du Bois, Pixley ka Seme, Marcus Garvey, Amy Ashwood Garvey, George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah, Dudley Thompson, Robert Sobukwe, Thabo Mbeki, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, C.L.R. James, Walter Rodney, Stuart Hall, Ruth First, Randall Robinson, Ali Mazrui, Angela Davis, Arthur Lewis, Samir Amin, Adebayo Adedeji, Thanika Mkandawire, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Frantz Fanon, Steve Biko, Wole Soyinka, Derek Walcott, Léopold Senghor, Buchi Emecheta, Chimamanda Adichie, Miriam Makeba, Bob Marley, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, and Harry Belafonte.

During the University’s Campus Engagements between the Vice-Chancellor, staff and students earlier this year, the UJ community discussed how they can implement the quest to decolonise knowledge in the University’s curriculum. As a consequence of these discussions, the ‘African Insights’ module was developed. Its aim is to enrich UJ’s first-year students’ experience by introducing them to a variety of prominent African writers, philosophers, political leaders, social activists and artists. In the first semester of 2017, the module was piloted with 1171 students from the Faculties of Humanities and Education. At the beginning of the second semester this 15-credit module will be compulsory for all first-year students, and available on the UJ student portal. In addition, all students from the second year onwards, as well as UJ staff members, are encouraged to register for the module.

Prof Adekeye Adebajo, Director of the Institute for Pan African Thought and Conversation (IPATC), which organized the conference, said that the papers presented by the scholars at the event will be compiled into a book that will be published in 2018. “The idea is to include African and Diaspora thinkers in the UJ curriculum, and not to scrap the existing curriculum, but to be in contestation with the Eurocentric syllabus,” explained Prof Adebajo.

The conference presenters were an eclectic group of young and old academic scholars such as young Mr Vladimir Lucien from Trinidad and Tobago, and Egypt’s 85-year-old Prof Helmi Sharawy from the Arab-African Research Centre. Historical contributions by women in different spheres of Pan-Africanism also proved pivotal on the agenda.

A detailed report on the conference will be available soon.

Prof Arthur Mutambara
Prof Arthur Mutambara


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