2016 : Decolonising the Mind

The 3rd Hugh Masekela Annual Lecture

7th September 2016

University of Johannesburg, Soweto Campus

The African Cultural Renaissance: Decolonising the Mind


Prof Pitika P. Ntuli


“Since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness a limb and outward flourish, I will be brief”, Shakespeare.


But brevity cannot do justice in the articulation of complex issues like culture and coloniality.




Colonial discourse marginalized African knowledge systems with adverse consequences for the colonized. The colonized ceased to be the subject of his or her own histories and became the construct of the dominant colonizer. During this hegemonic phase the African accepted the colonizers entire system of values, attitudes, morality and institutions. Even after the attainment of independence the new regimes disdained indigenous knowledge and values. My paper seeks to situate issues of the arts, religion and culture within the perspective of “decoloniality.” To draw attention to the insidious nature of “coloniality” and suggest ways of extricating ourselves from its imperial grip. It will touch on and develop or build upon ARCH’s efforts to define a course of action toward strengthening the AU’s 2063 Charter.


Colonialists had learned to effect total domination one has to paralyse and destroy a people’s culture and religion plays a critical part in this exercise.


Definition of Terms.


!. Decoloniality

  1. Coloniality
  2. Coloniality of Power
  3. Coloniality of Being
  4. Epistemic genocide
  5. Ontology
  6. Culture


What do we mean by culture?


According to Ngugi WA Thiongo, (1993):


Culture is a product of a people’s history. But it also reflects that history and embodies a whole set of values by which a people view themselves and their place in time and space.” To recall a culture, therefore means to recall a way of life, a people’s history. All our works of Art and Science; all the visible and invisible creations that our people have produced since time immemorial are expressions of our culture. To recall a culture is to recall the means for self-definition. We must not allow others to interfere with the formulation of our agendas. To create a space in which we can speak freely and to create institutions that are relevant to our situation is sacrosanct”.


Wade Nobles (1994)[1] defines culture as a process, which gives people a general design forliving and patterns their reality.” He goes on to define its “aspects” as ideology, ethos and worldview and its factors” as ontology, cosmology and axiology and it manifestations” consists of behavior, values and attitudes. Apart from providing group identification it builds on shared experiences and a collective sense of cultural identity. It makes possible the creation of shared symbols and meanings and act as primary source of collective consciousness; and it is that which makes possible to construct a national consciousness”.


Through our economic and cultural boycotts in the 1980’s the South African liberation movements mobilized worldwide to effect a collective universal consciousness that helped to liberate us. The power of art and culture, properly marshalled, is invincible!



The role of arts and cultural activists:


The AU African Cultural Renaissance Charter best captures the role of the art and culture sector in contributing to our self-definition, our destiny and the creation of the Africa we dream of.


The aims and objectives of this Charter are:

  1. (a) To promote freedom of expression and cultural democracy, indivisible from social and political democracy;
  2. (b) To promote an enabling environment for African Peoples to maintain and reinforce the sense and will for progress and development;
  3. (c) The preservation and promotion of the African cultural heritage through restitution and rehabilitation;
  4. (d) The assertion of the dignity of the African men and women and of the popular foundations of their culture;
  5. (e) The combating and elimination of all forms of alienation, exclusion and cultural oppression everywhere in Africa;
  6. (f) The integration of cultural objective in development strategies;
  7. (g) The encouragement of cultural co-operation among member States with a view to the strengthening of African unity, through the use of African languages;
  8. (h) The encouragement of international cultural co-operation for a better understanding among peoples within and outside Africa;
  9. (i) To promote in each country the popularization of science and technology as a condition for improved understanding and preservation of nature;
  10. (j) To strengthen the role of culture in promoting peace an good governance;
  11. (k) The development of all dynamic values in the African cultural heritage that promote human rights, social cohesion and human development;
  12. (l) To provide to African peoples the resources to respond to globalization.


It is, however, one thing to itemise what art and the culture can do inpractical terms. I here refer to strategies and tactics informed by knowledge of the forcesntop be won over. Fanon warns that:


“To take part in the revolution it is not enough to write a revolutionary song; you must fashion the revolution with the people, the songs will come by themselves, and of themselves.


You cannot get the people if your plans and ideas are skewed.


Toward this end in May 2014 a significant conference was held in Addis Ababa under the auspices of the AU Chairs office. The theme of the conference was “Africa Re-imagination Creative Hub” The conference brought together over a hundred creative people; poets, writers, architects, film makers, musicians and visual artist from across the African continent and its diaspora. The main aim of the conference was to lay a foundation for the chapter on “Arts, Culture and Heritage” for the African Union’s 2063 Agenda.


In its objectives ARCH sought to develop strategies to:

  • Promote, share and educate Africa and the world on Africa’s proud, positive and inspirational narrative through culture, knowledge, heritage and languages;
  • Ensure the repatriation and safeguarding of the African identity, culture, heritage, artefacts, and human entities;
  • Establish, advocate for and promote organisations, programmes, media, institutions and events of significance, which celebrate and develop Africa’s cultural renaissance, heritage and learning;
  • Improve and contribute to the coordination and implementation of arts, culture, language and heritage related programmes and decisions in the African Union and in its member states; and
  • Safeguard and protect the rights and freedoms of expressions of artists


That the AU had no chapter on the arts, culture and heritage speaks to us about the depth of colonial emasculation of our continent and its leadership. The AU is not alone in neglecting the creative forces of the continent. The National Development Plan of the South African regime covered hundreds of pages and hardly a page was devoted to this sector! My talk will address itself to the reasons for this and then suggest a way forward.


Not only the political leaders but also our leading intellectuals who lead our universities are seriously compromised, they have bought into the colonial logic that has shaped their worldviews. For instance, what are the priorities in our universities? Is it not STEM- Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics? The humanities and social sciences are banished to the doldrums to the suburbs’ of academia!


I was requested to speak about the following topics:


The role of the arts and cultural activists, how to determine Africa’s destiny in world history? Who writes Africa’s narratives and for whom –the need for Africans to write their own narratives, what is the Africa we want? How do we define and determine our future? And what Africa do we envisage in 2063? We cannot answer these burning questions without taking a step or two back to examine what happened to us to find ourselves in such a morass.

We have to dream different dreams but before that we need to know who we are where are from better for us to define the route to travel if we are to achieve our objectives of seeing a new re-imagined Africa. A major part of our endeavour is the act of Reclamation of our past that colonialism and its Christian civilizing mission sought to annihilate. We should take a leaf from earlier Africans in the 19th century who saw through the schemes and machinations of missionaries and Africanised their churches.

In 1884 whilst the Europeans met to balkanize Africa, an African priest Nehemiah Tile in South Africa broke away from the white church to form his own black church that was to grow into a movement called Ethiopianism. With people like James Mata Dwane, Mangena Mokone and others the stage was set for the first national movement on South African soil. Meanwhile, in West Africa, from around the middle of the 19th century, the returnees from the cotton fields of America began their cultural renaissance. These were freed slaves who were educated in the United States; many of these were Christian priests and evangelists.


They too rejected the white churches. They went farther than the South Africans. They established African schools where African value systems, traditions culture, native languages and art/craft were taught. Central to their teachings was race pride and love for their country. They wrote books on African art, culture, religion and history. They changed their Western names into African names; Rev David B. Vincent became Rev MajolaAgbebi, William J. Davis took the name of OrishatukehFaduma to name a few. (Okonkwo 1998)


J.H. CaselyHayford emphasized the need for an African university to be situated in the interior of the country in the heartland of the peoples’ culture. His wife Adelaide revolutionized women’s dress by setting an example by being dress only in African costumes for all occasions. In other words what the Black Conscious Movement of Azania had a precursor both in South Africa and in West Africa.


Edward Wilmot Blyden, in his famous speech, “The Return of the Exiles and the West African Church,” in 1891 he called on people to organise an independent African Church free from foreign control. He emphasized the need for the church to adapt to African conditions and culture. The independent church encouraged polygamy, they wrote their own songs and hymns and worshipped African style. In South Africa the ZCC and AmaNaretha (Shembe Church) are such independent churches.


The question then arises; who is alienated from their culture the ‘uneducated’ ones or educated elite in our education system, government or in business? Who needs to be reborn? The role of the church in the re-Africanisation programme was crucial. What came to be called ‘Black Theology’ in the sixties under the auspices of the BCM of Azania was, in a sense, the continuation of the work of these pioneers Blyden and Tile and their colleagues. However, the beginnings of Pan-Africanism were not on African soil but in Trans Atlantic America. It is from these earlier leaders in the church that we must learn how to develop our creative economies by identifying their thought processes in the context of our present search for answers!


Archie Mafeje seem to sum the tactics and strategies employed by these religio-political leaders of the 19th century when he writes:


Afrocentrism is nothing more than a legitimate demand that African scholars study their society from inside and cease to be purveyors of an alienated intellectual dis- course […] when Africans speak for themselves and about themselves, the world will hear the authentic voice, and will be forced to come to terms with it in the long-run […]. If we are adequately Afrocentric the international implications will not be lost on others.” (Mafeje 2000)


After slavery, colonialism, imperialism, apartheid, neo-colonialism, neo-liberalism, the Washington Consensus (Bretton Woods Institutions) and Structural Adjustment Programmes where do we find ourselves and in what space? We have waged successful decolonisation programmes. We have expelled colonists and colonialists from our continent. We celebrate the death of colonialism but remain in the vicious clutches of “Coloniality!”


Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni aptly captures the nuances of coloniality when he writes:


“ Coloniality is the leit motif of global imperial designs that has been in place for centuries. Decolonisation did not succeed in removing coloniality. Coloniality must not be confused with colonialism. It survived the end of colonialism.” What then is ‘coloniality?”


Ramon Grosfogel describes it as “a racially hierarchised, imperialistic, colonialist, Euro-American-centric, Christian-centric, hetero-normative, patriarchal, violent and modern world order that emerged since the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus.” Grosfogel elaborates:


“Herein lies the relevance of the distinction between colonialism and coloniality. Coloniality allows us to understand the continuity of colonial forms of domination after the end of colonial administrations; such domination is produced by colonial cultures and structures in the modern/colonial capitalist world-system. Coloniality of power refers to a crucial structuring process in the modern/colonial world-system that articulates peripheral locations in the international division of labour with the global racial/ethnic hierarchy and third world migrants’ inscription in the racial/ethnic hierarchy of metropolitan global cities.”

Coloniality is different from colonialism. Colonialism denotes a political and economic relation in which the sovereignty of a nation or a people rests on the power of another nation, which makes such nation an empire. Coloniality, instead, refers to long-standing patterns of power that emerged as a result of colonialism, but that define culture, labour, intersubjective relations, and knowledge production well beyond the strict limits of colonial administrations. Thus coloniality survives colonialism. It is maintained alive in books, in the criteria for academic performance, in cultural patterns, in common sense, in the self-image of people, in aspirations of self, and so many other aspects of our modern experience. In a way, as modern subjects we breathe coloniality all the time and everyday (Maldonad-Torres 2007: 243).

Grosfogelemphasises the importance of tracking the mechanics and manifestations of the inscription of hegemonic Western forms of knowledge and coloniality of power and to unpack how colonial modernity succeeded in pushing African forms of knowledge into the barbarian margins; and by that fact depriving African people of initiative and agency to take control of their destinies.

The creative and cultural economy is talked about as an important and growing part of the global economy.

What does this mean? The term refers to the socio-economic potential of activities that trade with creativity, knowledge and information. There is now a universal recognition of the arts-culture sector’s importance as a generator of jobs, wealth and cultural engagement. At the heart of the creative economy are the cultural and creative industries that lie at the crossroads of arts, culture, business and technology. What unifies these activities is the fact that they all trade with creative assets in the form of intellectual property; the framework through which creativity translates into economic value.

In other words for us to define our identity and determine our destiny we need to break the stranglehold of coloniality. For once one s imagination is captured they do not even notice. This raises a serious question in me. Is our theme of creative economies not play into the hands of the Bretton Woods Institutions and therefore a manifestation of our collusion with coloniality? Could we phrase our quest for creative productive agenda differently? Or do we spell our very clearly and succinctly what we mean by creative industries? Even the AU African Cultural Renaissance Charter speaks to its economics nothing about the intrinsic power and uses of art and culture in framing our dreams and destinies

If we exist within spaces of coloniality of power is it not the role of art and cultural activists to lay down strategies to dismantle this mind-set?

T.S. Eliot once wrote:”

“Let us not cease to explore, and our exploration will lead us to a place where we started and know it for the first time.”

I here refer to NgugiwaThiongo’s call for “Decolonising the Mind” and Chinweizu’s“Decolonising the African Mind” Both these authors and thinkers had identified the nature of coloniality and suggested ways of addressing the challenge within the ambit of the African renaissance whose main agenda is to:

  • Redress: Socio-economic imbalances of the past
  • Re-membering: The balkanised Africa in search of integration.
  • Redefining: Our mission in life, our value systems and our socio-economic direction.
  • Renewal: our commitment to justice, fairness and commitment to our rounded lives.
  • Rebirth: of our glorious past from which we could learn new lessons.
  • Refocussing: on the trajectories of objectives after derailment by interlopers/colonialists and their agents.


The Africa before colonialisation was a land of empires with its universities, its sciences and pragmatic educational institutions; it was a land of sophisticated arts and cultures. It is fact now accepted by leading western thinkers that it was African sculptures that lay behind western modernism in the arts. It is ironic that the Western world established “Ethnology” and “Anthropology” to study the natives with a view to colonise their imagination instead the works of art of the savages colonized the aesthetic dreams of its most creative people! That modern art movements ranging from Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism, to Expressionism owe their inspiration to Africa’s works of art. How do we recapture the spirit that produced those masterpieces of Art? That is challenge that brought us here today!


  1. Grosfogel, Ramon: (2008) “Transmodernity, Border Thinking and Global Coloniality, in Eurozine, http;//w.w.w.Eurozine.com/articles/2008-07-04-grosfogel-en-.html
  2. Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Sabelo J (2014): Why Decoloniality in the 21st Century; The Thinker for Thought Leaders.
  3. Mafeje, A. (2000). Africanity: a combative ontology. CODeSriA Bulletin,
  4. Wade Nobles quoted in Yurugu (1994): An African-centred Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behaviour, Marimba Ani, Africa World Press.
  5. NgugiwaThiongo, N: Decolonising the Mind (1987): The Politics of Language in African Literature. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  6. Kamalu, Chukwunyere (1998): Person, Divinity & Nature: A modern View of the Person &The Cosmos in African Thought. Karnak House, London.
  7. Bargna I. (2000): Jaca Books, London.