"Activism, scholarship, and the past and future(s) of South African Anthropology”

IfEK - Guest lecture, on Tuesday, 11.6. 2024, Rotunde / Cartesium 18- 20h

Heike Becker, a colleague from our partner university UWC, Capetown, will give insight on longterm processes of decolonisation in South African Anthropology. Based on this lecture we will focus on comparative and critical discussion about the situatedness of curricular building from postcolonial perspectives in our discipline Anthropology.


In my presentation I review decolonisation debates and practices in the South African academy, and particularly efforts by anthropologists based at South African universities to reinvent their discipline from a 21st century southern African perspective.

I argue that decolonisation is an indispensable response to colonialism and coloniality for academic institutions and knowledge production everywhere, both in former colonies and in societies of erstwhile colonial powers. However, the concepts of decolonisation have distinctive meaning in different contexts. If bids to decolonise the academy fail to reflect on the historical, geopolitical and local roots of histories of knowledge, they will end up reproducing the very dominance and hierarchisation, which they ostensibly challenge.

Regarding the political, institutional and epistemological trajectories of South African anthropology, the presentation emphasises

  • that the history of anthropological practices started with its establishment within the politics of local settler colonialism and (British) empire. The trajectories and contestations of South African anthropology were and remain embedded in a political economy of racial capitalism and extractivism; 
  • that debates and practical efforts of decolonising South African anthropology can best be understood against the background of the student-led protests in 2015-16, which put robust conversations about epistemological and pedagogical issues on the agenda; and
  • that in South Africa as a grossly unequal society, social justice is inevitably a key element of any discussion of decolonisation. Inequalities likewise continue to manifest in and between post-apartheid universities, which I demonstrate through close descriptions of recent efforts to decolonise the production of anthropological knowledge in three South African institutions.


Zoom Link for Online Participation:

A crane ist deconstructing the Rhodes-Statue in Capetown
Deconstructing the Rhodes-Statue, Capetown 9.4.2015