In April 2016, Youth Lab, in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, hosted a Policy Conversation at Rhodes University. This conversation was sparked by the growing decolonisation movements that have swept through universities in South Africa. Students at universities across the country have, through protest action, articulated the crucial need for a decolonisation of the learning and teaching space. Too often, universities remain spaces where the majority of South Africans feel marginalised and isolated by the very institutions meant to equip them to participate in building in a post-apartheid South Africa. This exclusion is found the curriculum, teachers, and even architecture of these institutions. The determination of student politics that has brought the conversation to the attention beyond the university walls, showing that South Africa’s young people are determined to have agency in the policies that affect their lives.
The conversation aimed to critically examine what is meant by decolonization, with a focus on practical interventions needed to decolonize student access, curriculum and the physical university space. The event was well-attended both by students actively involved in these movements, as well as those who aren’t. Through this discussion, participants articulated the decolonization process as a way of unlearning colonial ways of being, especially in the university context. They argued for a re-examination of university practices, such as graduation ceremonies and residence initiation practices, and called for greater conversations around curriculum, suggesting that decolonizing what people learn is equally as important as how they learn it. The conversation also shifted towards the way these movements, in themselves, can be exclusionary towards certain types of students who are unfamiliar with the jargon of the movement. As a point of departure, participants highlighted the need for movements to constantly reflect on their own ways of being and how, in attempting to disrupt certain systems, can themselves become problematic. There is a certain need for decolonization to occur both inside and outside the student movements themselves.