The youth as drivers of educational transformation in South Africa


This is a response to an article by Taryn Isaacs De Vega,  Taking the baton from the 1976 generation, Published in The Journalist

 “Does our research further emphasises [sic] the South African context or simply duplicate European knowledge?”

This question from the author embodies the essence of the article.

Other than being wanting grammatically, it misses many points and generates even more questions and concerns.

The Main Concerns

First, why should research at South African universities need to “further emphasize” anything, especially “context” in South Africa or any geographically exclusive area?

Second, is the author suggesting that current research at South African universities largely “duplicates European knowledge”?

My response

Research should answer questions, solve problems, challenge myth and dogma and, ultimately find progressive and innovative pathways to the elusive “Truth”.  It should be both predictive and testable.  Too often today, the word “context” is used to ‘justify’ action or inaction that fails to meet these criteria or, worse still, rejects other more plausible research that doesn’t ‘fit in’.

As an evolutionary and conservation biologist employed in an institute of African ornithology at the University of Cape Town, I spent more than four decades using birds (mainly chicken-like members of the avian Order Galliformes) to investigate the biological nature of ‘race’, species, speciation and wise use of gamebirds (e.g. guineafowls, francolins and spurfowls) to the benefit of humanity – intellectually and materially.

On 3 July 2017, Dr Tshifhiwa Mandiwana-Neudani (a former post-graduate student and now colleague at the University of Limpopo) and I will be co-presenting a plenary address at the conference of the Southern African Society for Systematic Biology that summarizes her and my key findings from research on francolins and spurfowls.  One (of many) key findings is the unexpected discovery that three long-evolutionarily-enigmatic African species (one of which was only discovered in the 1990s) are the African remnants of lineages that gave rise to most of the world’s remaining gamebirds: chickens, peafowls, pheasants, quails, grouse and turkeys.

This research would have been impossible without collaborating with South African, other African, European, and North/South American colleagues and students, and hundreds of hours working with specimens housed in colonial-established Euro-American museums.

Indeed, rather than “duplicating” the findings of Europeans, we refute many of them.

Furthermore, Dr Rob Little, a co-author of this research (also a former post-graduate student and past Director of Conservation at WWF – South Africa) co-supervised conservation-related research on francolins and spurfowls that supplements the incomes of South African farmers and their workers.

So, rather than implementing ‘decolonization’ to strip our progressive university students and researchers of ideas and approaches simply because they were developed in Europe or non-South Africa, let them forage out the ones that complement resilient indigenous knowledge to help do real, Afro-relevant research and provide education for the generations to come.

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Professor Tim Crowe is a descendant of oppressed Irish freedom-fighters from the United States working class. He is a first generation university graduate, non-settler immigrant alumnus, Elected Fellow and emeritus (40 years’ service) professor at the University of Cape Town. He is a Ph.D.-educated expert on evolutionary biology (covering everything from ‘race’ to deeply rooted evolutionary trees) and conservation biology (especially regarding sustainable and economically viable use of wildlife). He has published nearly 300 peer-reviewed scientific papers/books and is regarded as the world’s leading authority on game birds (chickens, turkeys, guinea fowls, etc.). About 70 of his graduated students have published their research and established themselves in their own right, including four professors.