Decolonising the Curriculum by ‘Centring the Black Intellectual’General

From left: Dr Federico Settler, Professor Gerald West, Professor Paulus Zulu, Professor Pholoho Morojele, Ms Leigh-Ann Naidoo, Professor Cheryl Potgieter, Ms Thobile Mzolo and Mr Lukhona Mnguni.From left: Dr Federico Settler, Professor Gerald West, Professor Paulus Zulu, Professor Pholoho Morojele, Ms Leigh-Ann Naidoo, Professor Cheryl Potgieter, Ms Thobile Mzolo and Mr Lukhona Mnguni.

The College of Humanities and the Maurice Webb Race Relations Unit hosted scholar and activist Ms Leigh-Ann Naidoo who presented a public lecture titled: “Decolonising the Curriculum by Centring the Black Intellectual”, as part of the College’s Transformation Lecture Series.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Humanities Professor Cheryl Potgieter said the series allowed for the engagement of transformation issues in society. ‘This particular lecture opens up a space of engagement for many to have an open conversation around issues of Higher Education,’ she said.

In her lecture, Naidoo discussed the role of an academic and intellectual through the problematic ways Black intellectuals and their work have been portrayed, the being and function of intellectuals as well as their neutrality and representation.

Naidoo argues that the category of intellectual needs to be expanded as well as the understanding and appreciation for the pre-colonial African context that passed down knowledge and thinking orally rather than through written texts.

She noted that the pleasure and fulfilment of intellectual labour for Blacks is connected to the promise of freedom from oppression. ‘The two are intimately linked for the Black intellectual, and are expressed through a range of creative endeavours, not only through writing. So even elite Black intellectuals working in universities have in the origins of their intellectual life a concern with the social and political potentiality of knowledge and learning, not only in their own lives but also as a means of making the world right.’

Naidoo says Black intellectuals hold a particular relationship to the dilemma of non-neutrality by understanding the conditions and contexts in which they operate, but should engage in both critique and resistance.

Acknowledging the #RhodesMustFall student movement and its impetus for demanding that the university and its curricula be made Black, Naidoo says ‘it cannot be read as an extension of the logic of affirmative action. Rather, it is to insist that “blackening the curriculum and the classroom” is a project of decolonisation: the restructuring of the relationship between the university and society, between knowledge and being.

‘The depth of this demand is extraordinary. And the answer that the history of Black intellectual life gives to this demand is a powerful insistence on that context, and one’s entailment in it, matters.’

In her concluding remarks, Naidoo said the challenge was for everyone to be ‘able to think in the spirit of this tradition: to constantly think about the relationship between our knowledge work and our context’.

Two UKZN academics Professor Paulus Zulu and Professor Gerald West with student, Ms Thobile Mzolo, reflected on the importance and meaning of Naidoo’s lecture.

Mzolo called for a moment of silence for students who lost their lives during the #FeesMustFall protests and those who were arrested. The public lecture coincided with the release of 10 students who were arrested on the Pietermaritzburg campus a few weeks ago.

The lecture also reflected on the importance of solidarity – in particular Black solidarity as being an important ingredient towards the achievement of decolonisation.

Melissa Mungroo