Ex-President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, having newly assumed office, has taken drastic steps to increasing access to  black students in the Country, demonstrating his unwavering commitment to education.

Mbeki has repeatedly called for the “renaissance of Africa”, most famously during his “I am an African” speech in 1996.

During his speech at UNISA, Mbeki explained what this “renaissance” would entail: eradicating the legacy of centuries of slavery, imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism. These processes, he said, produced “a demeaning European perception of Africa and Africans”.

The key challenge is how universities help to achieve this renaissance and radically create a new view of South Africa, Africa and Africans while they themselves are stuck in the recycling of Eurocentric knowledge.

And these institutions were themselves imagined and constructed on the logic of a paradigm of difference. They emerged with racial, regional, patriarchal, xenophobic and hierarchical mentalities – all designed by colonialism. Surely it’s a mammoth task to expect them to play a meaningful role in social change and the transformation of knowledge while they are discursively entrapped in racism, tribalism, regionalism, sexism, patriarchy, and xenophobia.

These included changing the way government funded universities; increasing access for disadvantaged black students to higher education; redressing the racial and gender demographic profile of teaching staff; and Africanising and decolonising the curriculum. This working group and its output were designed to help institutions of higher learning to position themselves as agents of transformation in society.

He ended his speech with a reference to the Ghanaian novelist and thinker Ayi Kwei Armah who called on Africa to wake up from the spell of Eurocentrism. This awakening, Armah – and Mbeki – argued – is an essential prerequisite for intellectual rebirth and remaking the Africa society.