“Decolonisation” has this year become one of those terribly misunderstood terms that everybody yearned to learn the real meaning and definition of, possibly because it was never sufficiently explained.
Professor Wim de Villiers explained “decolonisation” in very broad terms at the SULeads conference on the 4th of September: “The first part of decolonising is straight forward. It is about ‘seeing ourselves clearly’ as Africans. To be rooted in Africa means to be firmly connected to our continent and bearing fruit for the benefit of its people.” This definition is one that anyone can support, but unfortunately fails to pin down the essence of “decolonisation” as intended by the radical students.
Having endorsed the idea of “decolonisation”, Professor de Villiers may have been unaware of the fact that his understanding of “decolonisation” differs vastly from the “decolonisation” agenda of the radical “decolonisation” faction on campus.
To assume that the “decolonisation” agenda is noble, one first has to assume that we don’t “see ourselves as Africans” or that Stellenbosch University is currently dominated a non-native force. As none of these two assumptions are true, one has to look further to uncover the real agenda of “decolonisation”.
“Decolonisation” is essentially nothing but hatred disguised by a thin veil of pseudo-intellectualism. A prerequisite for understanding the objective of “decolonisation”, is to understand the ongoing practice of dividing campus into two categories, namely the “colonized oppressed” and the “oppressive colonizers”, who are white. “Decolonisation” can therefore at best be described as an anodyne (a word not likely to provoke dissent or offence) for eliminating reminders of white presence on campus.
“Decolonisation” reminds of a pseudo-religious orthodoxy that doesn’t respond well to facts, because it isn’t based on facts. This is why all critics of the idea of “decolonisation” – black and white alike – can expect to be shut down by ad hominem attacks and emotional non-arguments about their race.
Some argue that the idea of “decolonisation” is similar to Biko’s Black Consciousness, but drawing this parallel only insults Biko’s movement as it focused on black consciousness, while “decolonisation” focuses on white “unconsciousness” or “disturbing whiteness” as we so often hear. Biko was a proponent of black consciousness, not an opponent of white consciousness.
What would “decolonising” the university entail, if the current demands of radical students were to be met?
1. Instituting a meritless dispensation that actively works to replace white professors with black professors
2. The assignment of distinct rights to different groups based on their “level of oppression”. Whites should listen, they already say.
3. Reforming the university to become a thinking tank for more “liberation” politics
4. Blocking all channels for dissent and criticism and essentially abolishing equal freedom of speech for everyone.
5. Giving power over the students to a small group of self-assigned radical leaders.
“Decolonisation” should be dismissed for what it essentially camouflages: colonization of the university by radicals and their dangerous, divisive us-versus-them ideologies under the banner of “decolonisation”.
At the 2015 SULeads Conference, just a year before “decolonisation” would be addressed at the same conference, Professor Wim de Villiers said in his address something which everyone can agree to:
“We must reach out to each other in the search for common ground instead of retreating into “us” and “them” camps.
Driving “decolonisation” ultimately invites the practice of putting students into “us” and “them” camps based on their race and heritage. A proponent of unity and equality can therefore not be a proponent of “decolonisation” at the same time.