Background, Vision and Mission

The establishment of the San and Khoi Studies Unit has its genesis in the past 7 years with the establishment of the National Institute of Human and Social Sciences’ Pre-colonial Catalytic Project under the NRF Chair and former Director of CAS in 2013. The NRF Chair (Professor Lungisile Ntsebeza) convened three catalytic conferences sponsored by the NIHSS as part of this programme. These were held at CAS in March 2014 and January 2020, and at Mandela University in March 2017. The first conference of 2014 attracted archaeologists and historians nationally - predominantly white scholars - and it was clear then that a radical paradigm shift was required especially after the Rhodes Must Fall Movement that was ignited at UCT in March 2015.

The 2017 conference at Mandela University was decisively different and signaled decoloniality in practice through its very interdisciplinary, and largely indigenous representation which included San and Khoi activist leaders from the Eastern Cape. The message at this conference was clear, as captured in Bam, J., Ntsebeza, L., & Zinn, A. (Eds.). (2018). Whose History Counts: Decolonising African Pre-colonial Historiography (Vol. 3). African Sun Media., that the way forward for a relevant scholarly programme  could not be business as usual and that interdisciplinarity as methodology through indigenous community knowledge partnerships was crucial to decolonizing higher education curricula and their broader context. This decolonial context gave impetus to the developments in 2016 – 2017 to transform the university in its ‘deep architecture’ impacting specifically on the Naming of Buildings Committee under the DVC Transformation (Professor Feris).

It was within this context that the DVC Transformation participated in the CAS annual Neville Alexander Commemoration event in August 2017 which promoted the use of indigenous languages and associated indigenous knowledge of plants as part of transforming the ‘deep architecture’ through fostering community partnerships with CAS. Of the current San and Khoi traditional structures activists and a number of civic activists as ‘organic intellectuals’ engaged in the Neville Alexander event.

Towards the end of 2017, the DVC Transformation and the Chair of the NOBC approached CAS (through the NIHSS Precolonial Project) to lead on the renaming of Memorial Hall to Sarah Baartmann through getting buy-in from the traditional structures and self-identified Khoi and San descendant communities. This process involved huge numbers of participants (well over 100 nationally, which included traditional structures and civic activists) in early 2018 and developed through various highly contested community consultation processes over a period of nine months (10th March to 10th November), culminating eventually in a consensus in late 2018. The strategic consolidation led to the establishment of the A/Xarra as a co-design Restorative Justice Forum at CAS by October 2018. As the core group that emanated from this national process during this highly contested and intense dialogical process, it led strategically in the successful endorsement of the renaming of Memorial Hall as Sarah Baartmann Hall in late 2018. Right from the start and specifically at the March 10th gathering in 2018, it has been clear that this support for the renaming is conditional and should be linked to curriculum and research transformation.

Our Khoi ancestor Sara Baartman has brought us here. We need to honour that journey that has brought us to this particular point. The mandate is not about any organisation. We are here to restore our nation but also to be the beacon for South Africa and the world. Healing comes from the heart.

(Chief Krotoa Smith, A/Xarra Plenary for renaming of Memorial Hall, 10 November 2018). This meeting with traditional structures and community representatives was attended by the DVC Transformation, Council members (Buyane Zwane and Norman Arendse), the SRC and CAS colleagues.

The Vision and Mission of the Unit are: 

  1. to become a leading unit of its kind at one the leading higher education research-intensive universities in Africa through innovative socially engaged research partnerships in Khoi and San studies;
  2. to produce in partnership with the A/Xarra Restorative Justice Forum and other community and local, regional and global stakeholders, research output in support of and in alignment with the interdisciplinary CAS intellectual project on developing African endogenous philosophies and epistemologies in the southern African region and in the global south;
  3. to develop capacity building strategies in research partnerships with organic intellectuals and communities to produce new and relevant knowledge;
  4. to support research and writing skills development in deficient research areas through strengthening endogenous research methods and the establishment and ongoing development of a San and Khoi heritage archive based on southern African minoritized languages and their entanglement; embracing terminology and Indigenous Knowledge as diverse in interpretations and as part of ongoing socially engaged research contestation and necessary debate;
  5. to commit to producing regular knowledge and research outputs of international standing and scholarly rigour within the current Higher Education Framework within UCT as a ‘Research Intensive’ institution.  
  6. to be guided by IKS Law and associated responsibilities on data protection.
  7. to develop a decolonial African philosophy on research methodology (e.g. the importance of deep listening to the oral tradition of knowledge) and research ethics in a co-design process with communities towards the establishment of an informed and relevant Ethical Research Methods Framework.
  8. to host regular cultural events, exhibitions, webinars, conferences and seminars