Tuesday, August 30, 2011

To Think Or Not To Think Africa From The Cape?

Growing up in the Cape, we were taught that we were “Western”. How do we explain and undo this colonial sensibility? From my location at a university, there are two realisations from which to proceed. Firstly, the history of knowledge production, and the history of the organisation of knowledge — the ways we organise disciplines in this country — has a colonial and apartheid genealogy, and is dominated by Enlightenment thinking. We share this with the postcolonial world in the Middle East, in Asia and in Latin America. It is the post-independence inheritance of most of the formerly colonised world.

Secondly, I want to urge that we both accept and reject this feature of our intellectual inheritance. Not either accept or either reject, but both accept and reject. Simultaneously. That is to say, we can objectify our intellectual formation, put it in its place, and in its time — remind it that this a view from a particular part of the world that has become dominant in a rather sordid manner. But we also accept that we have, in the wonderful phrase of an Indian historian, “all been worked over by colonialism”. There is no way out of that history nor out of the Enlightenment. But there is a way through it.

(Surren Pillay on Thinking Africa from the Cape)

I take it that we are all aware of the apartheid version of thinking Africa from the Cape, so let’s fast forward to this postcolonial, post-apartheid moment. From this perspective, the most visible change has been the historic change in political dispensation but has this led to a fundamental shift away from the old manner of thinking of Africa? Has the neo-liberal regime of globalisation (with which the post-apartheid order coincides) helped to enable this shift or has it simply confirmed us in the old ways? In our South African corporations that do business in Africa? (An interesting phrase this!) In our tertiary institutions that encourage links with Africa? Are we simply — as corporations and tertiary institutions — setting up shop(s) in the African countries we deal with or are we committed to a dialogic engagement that deepens ties and fosters genuine knowledge creation and collaboration?

(Harry Garuba on How not to think Africa from the Cape)


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