Decoloniality and Higher Education Transformation in South Africa

  • Celiwe NgwenyaEmail author


In this chapter, Celiwe Ngwenya argues that decoloniality ought to be a theoretical cannon for conceptualising democratisation and transformation in contemporary South Africa, which still has enduring and active injustices since the public education systems and institutions are covertly characterised by coloniality. Ngwenya concedes that, although public policy in democratic South Africa aspires to reach equality in accessing higher education, which is a tool for social mobility, the majority of South Africans—owing to their poverty status—do not access this cardinal tool for social mobility. Furthermore, the pedagogical encounters of universities favour the prevailing undue privileges that were restricted to and monopolised by the white minority during the apartheid era. Ngwenya further argues that realisation of the promise for equality in accessing higher education, as well as pedagogical encounters that resonate with the situationality of African people, is obliterated by the politics and demands of the new neo-liberal global order that informed the public policy direction of post-apartheid South Africa. The major challenge regarding the neo-liberal order in the context of South Africa, as Ngwenya argues, is that education in the country sustains and perpetuates asymmetrical power relations in institutions of higher learning. Ngwenya further argues that the presupposed ‘fair’ competition among students disaffirms and nullifies as morally inconsequential the enduring inequalities most black students face due to their social and historical situatedness. The neo-liberal demand for global competitiveness results in the marginalisation of African languages, a systematic endeavour of apartheid coloniality, placing such languages at the periphery of the higher education agenda; hence, they remain undeveloped for academic discourse, retaining the goals of apartheid and coloniality. Ngwenya contends that such trends of marginalising African-ness subtly rationalise coloniality as natural and that all African students have to do is to embrace the new global norm that is nevertheless alienating in principle. Ideal education for Ngwenya is one that does not overlook national needs and contextuality that values care for the other and not unmoderated competition. To be consistent with democratic equality, Ngwenya argues that South African education must actively aim to restore the dignity of African people by embracing relevant African values and ideals in higher education. African languages should be centred in the university. The university must not prize free market capitalism and globalism at the expense of achieving democratic equality that is responsive to the historical and socio-cultural situatedness of the people.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Education Policy StudiesStellenbosch UniversityStellenboschSouth Africa

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