“Can This White Guy Sing the Blues?” Disability, Race, and Decolonisation in South African Higher Education
In post-apartheid South Africa, several identity groups (pertaining to race, gender, sexuality, and other markers) vie for access to limited resources. Claims are staked based on a group’s perceived historical suffering—that is, the question of whether, and to what extent, its members fit the category of “previously disadvantaged”. South Africa’s colossal racial trauma means that when any interest group competes with race, its claims are demolished, giving rise to the question of “who can suffer?” Recent years have witnessed widespread protests, with universities grappling with demands for faster transformation in racial representativity, fee-free education, and the decolonisation of curricula, public identities, and procedures. Into this melee comes disability, which is known to disrupt categorical assumptions about class, race, exclusion, and poverty. Making use of the author’s own positionality as a White, male, disabled South African university academic, this chapter attempts to figure disability disadvantage against this backdrop, querying how the hegemony of race-based logic can operate as a psychic defence against the complexity which disability brings. In the process, key challenges facing tertiary institutions, such as the rise of populism, the forging of decolonised identities, and the deepening of democracy, are considered.
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