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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versión On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versión impresa ISSN 0041-4751


GREFFRATH, Wynand. Radical post-colonialism and universities in South Africa. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2016, vol.56, n.4-1, pp.928-945. ISSN 2224-7912.

This article concerns the wave of student protests that swept across South African universities during 2015 and 2016. The phenomenon of student protest at universities is approached and analysed against the backdrop of several macro-political trends that are currently emerging in the South African context. It is argued that the most pronounced of these emergent trends is the radicalisation of South African politics and society. Widespread dissatisfaction with service delivery and the rendering of public goods by government have intensified calls for quicker and more radical political solutions to perceived socio-economic hardships. In this regard, the culture of service delivery protest stands out as a significant barometer of social dissatisfaction, despite the strides that have been made since 1994 in the improvement of basic quality of life in South Africa. Furthermore, and related to the aforementioned trend of radicalisation, there has occurred a clear burgeoning of the political left in South African politics. As social dissatisfaction has escalated over the last three to four years, new progressive and radical political actors have emerged in the landscape of institutionalised politics in order to capitalise on the prevalent alienation among citizens. Concurrently, established political parties have also adopted more progressive, and in some cases radical, policy and ideological positions. Together, these developments point towards a political playing field that is "shifting to the left", as it were. Furthermore, the aforementioned developments have taken place during an epochal change in the South African psyche, namely the expiration of the period known as "post-apartheid". The guiding values of tolerance, reconciliation and "rainbow nationalism" that characterised the post-apartheid period and political engagement are now conspicuously absent in South African politics. Instead, racial and economic class tensions have re-emerged and the political climate has become more confrontational and militant. Whereas the post-apartheid period was premised on forgiving the transgressions of apartheid and adopting a prospective orientation of future consolidation, South African society is now engaged in a retrospective re-interrogation of its colonialist past. Because of the confluence of these trends and circumstances, this article argues that it is possible to speak of the emergence of a post-colonial epoch in South Africa's historical trajectory. The notion of post-colonial South Africa is premised on numerous aspects which exist in a dialectical relationship with the history of the state and society. Among the most significant manifestations of this dialectic is the manner in which the post-colonial society engages critically with its institutions in an attempt to change and transform. Thus, as universities have become increasingly subject to such critical engagement by society, but specifically by students, instability and conflict have arisen in the process of change and transformation. Various possible outcomes of such instability and change are considered in the article as universities, and formerly Afrikaans universities in particular, are faced with the challenges of responding to the demands of post-colonial politics and society. These demands include that universities become activist institutions that promote social justice, Africanisation and indigenisation, and the decolonisation of knowledge. In the process, it appears that the utility and value of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction and institutional language is disparaged with the purpose of annihilation, and furthermore that universities may increasingly become domains of ideological, and not intellectual, contestation. The article concludes by positing that the future of the university in a post-colonial local context will require a commensurate reconceptualisation of the role and functions of a university.

Palabras clave : #FeesMustFall; Post-apartheid; Post-colonialism; radical politics; student protest; South African universities.

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