Centre for African Studies (CAS)

African Studies at UCT is an interdisciplinary teaching and research cluster located in the Department of African Studies and Linguistics in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities.  It consists of two sections, the Centre for African Studies and the African Studies unit. Between them they carry out and support a large number of projects and programmes.

The African Studies section of the Department of African Studies and Linguistics  offers a full academic programme, concentrated at the graduate level but also including some undergraduate courses. Typically, our students are interested in critical, interdisciplinary scholarship that takes the location of being in Africa as a vantage point to study Africa and the world. They are interested in thinking outside of the frameworks of an inherited set of knowledge projects. And they are interested in taking seriously the critical and intellectual traditions of the global south.

The Centre for African Studies is the longest-established institution of its kind. Re-launched in 2012, it carries a mandate for promoting and supporting African Studies across the various Faculties of the University of Cape Town.

Together, the Centre for African Studies and the African Studies unit house and support a number of projects, including:

  • The African Studies Gallery
  • The AC Jordan Chair of African Studies
  • The NRF Chair in Land Reform and Democracy in South Africa
  • The journal Social Dynamics
  • The Harry Oppenheimer Institute, a granting committee that supports African Studies at UCT
  • We also support a growing list of international collaborations, new research projects, seminars and conferences, socially engaged research with public intellectuals and community organisations, and various publication initiatives.


The Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town has been an important flashpoint in the life of the institution which has generated important debates about the study of Africa, colonial pasts and postcolonial futures. Part of the mission of African Studies at UCT is to draw on the resources of these debates, as well as other similar debates in universities across the global south, to re-imagine and reconfigure inherited architectures of knowledge. In our pursuit of a critical humanities and social sciences we understand ourselves to be situated at the cutting edge of new knowledge formations,  engaged in critiques of inherited institutional and disciplinary forms, while immersed in a rigorous engagement with the critical and intellectual traditions of Africa,  situated comparatively. We endeavour to draw on these traditions of knowledge to re-write the past, to contribute to better understandings of the major predicaments of the present, and to facilitate  the imaginings of new futures.


The current director of the Centre for African Studies is Prof. Suren Pillay


Some Preliminary Thoughts

The moment is ripe to explore a third way. The challenge is to recast African Studies as a study of Self - indeed of Selves - as a source of self- knowledge. Such a quest is likely to involve a double challenge: both ontological and epistemological.

The ontological question is primary: What is Africa? A multiplicity of "races"? Who is an "African"? A racial being? We know that apartheid in South Africa (as colonialism in the rest of Africa) constructed the "African" as a racial being. A newcomer to South Africa is struck by how university and street talk continues to portray an "African" as a racial being. If to transcend the legacy of apartheid is to transcend this racial identity and to humanize fully the construct of "African", and if this is not to turn into a mere posture, do we not need to ask: what is the historical process that makes of us, Africans?

The ontological question is tied to that of epistemology. This is why the main task of the Centre for African Studies - and indeed of the university - is to redefine the study of Africa as the study of ourselves in a post-apartheid world.

- Mahmood Mamdani

On Rhodes Memorial

This memorial captures one moment of thinking Africa from the Cape and freezes it literally in stone, in a manner that should be a lesson to us all. To grasp the fullness of this lesson and to capture this longer view, we may as well begin by posing the original question of thinking Africa from the Cape in the negative: how does one NOT think Africa from the Cape at the present moment? And my short response will be: look at the Rhodes Memorial and you will find the answer. There is a logic to this monument at the base of Devil’s Peak that strikes you with the particular force when you visit for the first time, especially if you come from “Africa”. Suddenly, all the abstract ideas that you have learnt in your social and critical theory classes make immediate sense. Ideas of surveillance and control, the panoptic gaze and the visual regime of modernity, and so on, all come alive. Here the idea of “Cape to Cairo” takes on a visual presence. Yes, the view of Cape Town from here is as stunning as it is panoramic — just as the tourist brochure tells you. What arrests you here though is not really this view but the vision it encapsulates: the vision of an era when the world was out there for the taking, when Africa was envisioned as a vast landscape, lying supine at your feet, waiting for the lights of civilisation and commerce to shine over it. It is this panoptic vision of a world under the gaze and surveillance of an imperial man that hits you in the guts: this, in essence, is the modernist dream of encyclopaedic knowledge and control over native subjects.

- Harry Garuba