HomeOpinion & AnalysisLetter from America: We must rid ourselves of Eurocentriceducation. Which One?

Letter from America: We must rid ourselves of Eurocentriceducation. Which One?


THE rage in Afro-academic circles and conferences is all about decoloniality. Zimbabwean and South African politicians have joined in. The birth of an Afro-film festival at Midlands State University, however, if sustained, can be a game changer. In today’s Afro-academic world, challenging the parameters of this debate is regarded as treasonable.

As a lexicographer, one who studies the meaning of words, I ask this treasonable question. What exactly do they mean by abandoning European (modern) education? Ah, they say, “Ken, you must be ignorant of the history that is taught in our schools. That history places Europe at the centre of the universe, and western concerns at the expense of other concerns and values.”

That is very natural. All those who have come into my presence know that in my perspective, there is no greater and welcoming city in the world than Masvingo. Within that paramountcy originated the people of the Rainbird, whose girls swam with water mermaids as a rite of passage, marking them as the most beautiful women among the Bantu. Of course, the only sadza that is worth eating is cooked by mothers of the Rainbird. The issue here is that don’t curse me out for placing my mother’s people above all the Bantu tribes. Write your own story.

The argument that the whiteman loves himself is totological (useless repetition). European education is part of human modernisation. In 1961, RhodesianNegrophile Richard Knottenbelt got permission to educate African boys beyond Form IV. Knottenbelt was held in contempt by whites, but he kept his faith.

In that class, there was professor Douglas Mufuka, M.D. (Epidiomologist), professor Gibson Mandishona, PhD (Mathematician), professor Chris Mugadza, PhD (biologist) and professor Pheneas Makhurane, PhD (Physics) late vice-chancellor and founding academic at National University of Science and Technology.

Tell me you sluggards, or better still, tell the ghost of Knottenbelt that he was misinformed that “his boys” could excel and benefit from a Eurocentric education. Even more, Knottenbelt wanted “his boys” to leave a mark on the world stage.

European education is about modernisation, clarity of thought, logical thinking and adaptive assimilation of new ideas. While we blame the white man for colouring the black experience in a negative way, the major research in Kemetic (Egyptian) civilisation was done by blacks in the United States. Black Studies were taught at Howard and Tuskegee universities long before white universities ever heard of them. These blacks, William Edward Burghardt du Bois, Frederick Douglass and Henrik Clarke were learned in the classics. That is how they discovered that Herodotus says that: “Egyptians are black because of the sun.” (Book 7).

There is another measure of the success of Zimbabwe’s colonial education. Our overseas success has been predicated on Ordinary and Advanced Level discipline of the mind. Of the 105 Zimbabwean students who have gone through Lander University, not a single student has failed.

Give credit where credit is due. I have been invited by the Trustees of Lander University to dinner many times. I did not discredit their belief that I had a secret formula in selecting these scholars. The English education we received is a witness to itself.

Those who demand a transition to a black education also demean the use of the English language, as an imperialistic tool, even though they write and speak in that language. Mahatma Gandhi of India wanted Hindi to be the major language, but he himself wrote in English and spoke bad Hindi. Lord Macaulay had pre-empted Gandhi’s argument.

By imbibing Latin and Greek, and assimilating words from all over the world, Macaulay argues, English adopted “every model of eloquence … historical narratives have seldom been surpassed … as a vehicle of ethical instruction … have never been equaled.” To be bilingual is of course an expansion of human horizons. The aim here is not to banish English, but to expand the learner’s horizons, if he so wishes, by adding a second language.

Lord Macaulay contended with this issue as well. Those in India who insisted that Indians cannot learn and master enough English to be proficient, benefited from the native language schools while they sent their children to English speaking schools. “They designate the education which their opponents recommend as mere (book education). They say that a native cannot be fulfilled unless he memorises the Holy Koran and the Sanskrit.”

Big laugh

An excerpt from Roland Ndille’s doctoral dissertation at Wits University (2006) made me laugh. Africans are conflating political mishaps with European education; one had nothing to do with the other. As a result, their tinkering with European education (while politicians send their children to Western Europe) came to naught.

Here is Ndille: The research concludes that while some countries embraced the idea and actually initiated policies to Africanise their educational systems, the general picture indicates that Africanisation has not succeeded in most countries due to various challenges.”  Such challenges are not new. In fact, they are universal. US Democrats are the quintessential hypocrites. While they advocate a public education for the poor (non-religious), Presidents Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton sent their children to a Quaker no nonsense school in Washington, DC.

They had nothing to offer. The Zimbabwe Herald June 10, 2010, was nearer the truth than other polemicists. The area, which needs attention is historical writing, because, so argues the Herald, European history for Africans is written by Europeans with a European audience in mind. The answer is very simple.

Write your own, you sluggard!

Aeneas Chigwedere schooled me in the secrets of the earth. The Shoko people, he said, were the most ancient among the Bantu in Zimbabwe (mutangakugara). When I informed late vice-president Simon Muzenda of this horrendous claim, he (a Murozvi) said to me. “Go tell your teacher that VaRozvi (destroyers) are the owners of the land.” When I visited my guru, Edison Zvobgo (a Shumba — lion man) he said to me. “Go tell your teacher, nobody lives in Karangaland unless we, the rulers of the forest, give him permission.“ My mother, daughter of the Rainbird, laughed: “These friends of yours better give us some respect or there will be no rain this year. Then they will come to us begging for dear life.”

The argument I am making is that don’t blame the white man for writing history in his own favour. More importantly, in order to survive in a modern world, European education is vital and irreplaceable. What we need are more Knottenbelts, not less. I may add, for the sake of accuracy, before Knottenbelt, there was Sir Garfield Todd. Peace.

  • Ken Mufuka is a Zimbabwean patriot. He writes from the US. His book, Matters of Conscience (British Council Best Books of Africa, 2002) is now available in reprint at Innov Bookshops in Zimbabwe and at kenmufukabooks.com in the wider world.

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading