What is true critical decolonization?


In the ‘bad old days’ up to the end of World War II, South Africa was a handful of quasi-independent provinces home-ruled by a Heath Robinson, Anglo-centric, segregationist, explicitly structurally colonial/racist/sexist and exploitative government and socio-economy. In the ‘really bad old days’ during 1950-1990, South Africa ‘decolonized’ from the United Kingdom, and became a highly organized, brutally effective, Afrikaner-centric, emasculating, oppressive, still racist/sexist and Balkanized ‘federation’ of ‘real’ (=’white’) South Africa and a system of Bantustans. During the 1990s ‘good old days’, a single, post-Apartheid, non-racial “Rainbow Nation” attempted to transform South Africa synergistically. Indeed, the hyper-managerialized University of Cape Town (UCT) even created a highly paid deputy vice-chancellor’s post to ‘deal’ with its “transformation”.

The most effective advocate of transformation at UCT was Vice-chancellor Mamphela Ramphele. During her three-year ‘reign’, she drove the process of transforming UCT from an excellent, residually, ‘colonial’, racialist and sexist university [that, too often, produced unemployable, Eurocentric, Afro-irrelevant graduates] into a world leading (and competitive) centre of Afrocentrism.

So far, during this millennium, the Afro-anything momentum has been lost at UCT and transformation has been transformed into “decolonization”. In the last few years, this has culminated in amorphous Fallism bent on “really decolonizing” UCT, no matter the ‘Price’. Extreme Fallist decolonists now dominate its illegitimate Students Representative Council and gerrymandered Convocation, Alumni Association and Internal Reconciliation and Transformation Commission Steering Committee (IRTC SC). The achievement of this dominance has been aided and abetted by a pro-Fallist UCT Executive and Council and an emasculated Senate whose members pitch up at meetings expecting “done deals”.

So far at UCT, all that the multi-clemencied-amnestied-pardoned lawbreaking Fallists demand is further amnesty from the IRTC SC in the “spirit of expansive, indigenous and religious restorative justice” (whatever that means). Once they have this, they will inevitably call for epistemic ‘cleansing’ of curricula and academic staff that/who culturally “other”, “suffocate” and cause “pain” to “black, LGBTIQA+, poor students, and staff”.  This is because these oppressed (never identified and counted) masses are tormented relentlessly by demographically (also unidentified/uncounted) surreptitiously dominant white racists who employ (undocumented) ongoing “invisible and visible cultural, epistemic, structural and psychological violence with historical roots going back to 1829”.

In the midst of all this, Alex Broadbent calls for “critical, thorough scrutiny to truly decolonise knowledge”. He correctly describes academic ‘colonization’ as curricula, ideas and knowledge as being “shaped in part by considerations that are political, economic, social, cultural or otherwise tangential to the ideals of academic inquiry”.  In short, “knowledge is [rather than conveys in the Baconian sense] power”. It can be imposed by those uninterested in “the fair-minded pursuit of truth” and thus may need to be “disinfected”.

I have no objection to ‘disinfecting’ tainted ‘politically correct’ knowledge such as Lysenkoism, an attempt to re-impose the long-discredited Lamarckian theory of evolution by acquired characteristics in Stalin’s Soviet Union. This resulted in massive famines and executions of scientists who disagreed with Lysenko. Locally, we had the Mbeki’s views of HIV/AIDS.

But Broadbent is not done. He also suggests the possibility that decolonization can also involve “cultural relativism” resulting in “a rejection of the idea of objectivity, which is seen as a sort of heritage of colonial thinking”. “Facts and truths are local”. “What is discovered or expressed in one time or place will necessarily be inapplicable in another”. In support of this way of thinking he refers to philosopher Michel Foucault’s “thought that power and truth are closely related, or even the same thing”.

Some Fallists and eminent decolonists Mahmood Mamdani (this year’s UCT TB Davie Academic Freedom Lecturer) and Achille Mbembe use such thinking to argue for replacing academic scholars who strive to discover universal truths/laws with Gramscian “organic intellectuals” who derive their ‘knowledge’ from the masses. Further, it is undesirable “to critically evaluate the opinion of another person” [= organic intellectual?] because it is “an exercise in power politics”. In short, anyone is entitled “to assert that something is true, is a fact, or works, contrary to anyone else’s belief”, thereby “adopt[ing] a certain very broad kind of relativism”.

Fortunately, Broadbent seems to reject this “Critical Decolonisation”.

Then he refers to “the risk of being wrong” and correctly points out that BOTH indigenous knowledge systems and western science might contain truths that have not been properly assessed, or just may be plain wrong.   Then he writes that this is somehow must be “a very scary and painful question for academics who have devoted their lives to the study of what they have been told are works of genius”. Why should it not be equally “scary” for proponents of indigenous knowledge?

Why shouldn’t all who profess to have knowledge (even university professors!) face up to the possibility that their ideas, hypotheses and paradigms may just not be applicable when tested in a novel situation? Isn’t that what “falsifiability’ is all about?

But, Broadbent takes the position that:

“If done properly and critically a lot of what we count as great [Western knowledge] will fall in the process of decolonising knowledge. A lot of formerly unvoiced and unheard ideas [indigenous knowledge] will come to light. “

The key words here are “done properly and critically” and “come to light”. How one interprets and implements them is “critical”. I and most modern researchers worldwide use falsifiability and parsimony as ‘proper’ criteria. Organic intellectuals and dogmatic believers of myths may use others and “see the light” forever in “context”.

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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.