The tradition of an Afrikan intelligentsia who is supremely fixated on the politics of racial interaction and its consequence as a means of orientating the Afrikan intellectual renaissance in contemporary times, is a tradition that centres academic and intellectual orientation within the narrow and floating lens of urban and elitist manifestations of what the role of Afrikan intellectuals truly is.
An ontology that presents the primary and most applauded role of intellectuals in a society as performers of intellect and disruptors of a ‘foreign’ order that they simultaneously participate in for both survival and applause, is not primarily rooted in the practical realisation of Afrikan societies that are connected to places of higher learning and who benefit from their role.
It must be reasoned that proximity to identified ‘others’ forces Afrikan intellectuals to prioritise the work of presenting and proving themselves as equals due to our colonial past and the unfortunately accepted dogma of what constitutes excellence within these spaces.
This intellectual work therefore becomes centred on viewing places of higher learning as foreign vessels which must be penetrated and reclaimed through the systems that orientate its existence. This view is a preoccupation that, although valid, is stifling in its lack of comprehensive societal exploration of the notion of academy through Afrikan lenses.
This is due to the fact that this intellectual work is framed in ways that whether directly or not, re-impose the aloofness that distances these works from the societies that they are meant to serve within the Afrikan context specifically.
The conceptualisation of an Afrikan scholar cannot be reasoned merely as an aesthetic antagonism to an existing formula of intellectual work because this preoccupation renders it easily captured and reactive and more importantly, limits its possibility. Rather, it must flow from the natural order of social agency that stems from a vivid and lived understanding of what represents Afrikan societies and the role that the intelligentsia that comes from these societies is obligated to perform in order to propel these societies forward.
This perhaps explains the very specific and tunnel-visioned ideological fixation that presents itself in certain institutions of higher learning when issues relating to transformation and development arise.
The aim of decolonising these spaces is a noble one long in coming. It also presents a paradox on the breadth of decolonisation that can occur when even those who seek to decolonise are fixated on the role of the other within those spaces in achieving their goal.
The unrest in South African universities in specific respect to the call for both free higher education and the decolonisation of spaces in these local institutions has raised a number of inter-laden issues that require observation more tailored than that which could be afforded by a narrow ideological narrative.
The Fees Must Fall movement and others, have sparked a cacophony of perspectives that have raised questions on the levels of societal differentiation that outstrip race and class in terms of what students at different universities in the country experience and the extent to which that difference can be fully encompassed within a mass movement.
The main centres from which these protests have arisen tell a particular tale in this regard.
Fees Must Fall (University of Witwatersrand), Open Stellenbosch (Stellenbosch University) and Rhodes Must Fall (University of Cape Town) are movements that may well have sprung up from a widespread upsurge of discontent with the socio-economic conditions that represent the circumstance of the majority of citizens in South Africa, however they have in the main done so within the confines of both intellectual and material context that represent the intellectual and ideological experiences of those within that context specifically.
I say this well aware that the historic classification of these universities as being previously privileged and disadvantaged is one that needs to be overcome in order to attain synergy of resolve. However, the extent to which this synergy can be obtained, is currently tilted towards the perspective and narrative amplification of those currently within the proximity of privilege which stems from the present academic spaces that they occupy.
This privilege is also a persistent and clandestine rent seeker on a particular framing of thought.
There is therefore an important role that historically (and currently) disadvantaged universities can and should play in securing the intellectual Afrikan identity of students in a manner that they are a ‘full picture’ and not a mirror image of the behaviour and academic culture of ‘others’.
It is within these spaces which are the historic intellectual homesteads of Afrikan intelligentsia, that the new intelligentsia can be reimagined to fill and nurture the environments they inhabit rather than fall victim to the tentative cycle of conform, distance, rebel and negotiate that has been the norm at other institutions of higher learning.
In further arguing for a league of historically disadvantaged universities, their locations are held in high cognisance.
A majority of these universities are located in close proximity to communities that represent the extreme realities of the conditions that the majority in this country face.
This is in itself a forceful measure of societal awareness and re-negotiated agency and can therefore be used as a resource that ensures that these students are able to connect their philosophical and ideological persuasions to the real tasks that must be conceptualised as the duty of Afrikan intelligentsia.
The university cannot be conceived in the minds of Afrikan students as a place that secures a permanent escape from the majority of this country but must rather be seen as a place that capacitates a cadre of Afrikan scholars who engage with and directly impress the objectives of the Afrikan Renaissance wherever they may find themselves in future.