Decolonisation : The Identity Project

I think that one of the possibly most important things I have come to know in life is that congruence does not necessarily breed unity. We see this daily in groups of friends on campus and on the television when the circus that is parliament decides to assemble.

Often, when one talks of decolonization, it is with the purpose of bringing Stellenbosch to the stark reality that it is not, in fact, an overseas department of Europe but rather a town nestled in the coastal South of Africa. It is with the purpose of realigning Stellenbosch to an African narrative, similar perhaps to our bordering countries. It is with the purpose of addressing racial systems of power still in place after the political period of injustice and oppression that was Apartheid.

What decolonisation does not talk about is identity. It does not address the fact that, for example, Morocco is still regarded as African, as is the Democratic Republic of the Congo – despite their obvious differences. It does not question the fact that despite the indigenous nature of Afrikaans, it will never form part of the “ideal decolonized identity of South Africa”.

Much like with people, countries are not born with identities. It is the lived experiences of the people that make up the country that must be harvested in order to give life to identity – and even once established, it cannot remain static. In essence: identity must be discovered, not copied nor adopted. As a fluid entity, identity will change over time. The South Africa where we live now is not the South Africa from the 1400’s, or the 1960s – nor should it be.

Enabling or even requiring students to take an African language as part of their study programmes will work wonders in the economy as well as the socio-political environment of South Africa. Making use of more African academic literature will assist students to interact more with their studies and encourage many students to pursue higher qualifications. Employing more black academic staff will improve the financial status of institutions with regards to BEE and even, perhaps, aid in straightening out employment prejudices of the past. These things, however, will not decolonize South Africa and much less Stellenbosch.

Instead, South Africa must establish its identity – that is, discover what South Africa really means to its people. This means taking into consideration every population group’s lived experiences, culture and language. This means acknowledging the history of the country – all of it. This means recognizing the fact that South Africa is not Uganda, Zimbabwe or Namibia. This means accepting that all who were born in Africa make up a part of Africa’s identity, irrespective of their forefathers. Much like Germany after the Second World War, South Africa is a work in progress: a project of sorts, and it is only by joining the hands of all South Africans that we can begin to build a common identity that is inclusive and constructive to all.

Stellenbosch University is in the unique position of being able to implement and begin work on this project. It must be noted, however, that this process is much less a list of practical to-do’s and more of a shift in mindset. It is through discussion, engagement and compromise from all sides of the spectrum that this change can come about. A wise vice-rector of the University once told me that change happens in accordance with two main principles: ownership and value. I do not doubt that we, as citizens of the country, see the value of South Africa. It is now time to call it ours.

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