How can the wisdom of communities in Africa be used for healing and what are ones responsibilities in the healing?
The main focus in this 7th retreat of the South African Chair (SARCHI) in Development Education, was “Healing, restorative justice and citizenship Education as the first Principles in the Philosophy of Higher Education”. The retreat drew participants from many parts of the world, but also from different knowledge systems. The main emphasis was that all need healing, but as it was taking place in an African University, there was emphasis on affirming African cultures and knowledge systems in the age of globalisation as part of the healing and inclusion of those who have for long been locked out.
Prior to the main retreat, there was an introduction session where each participant was given good time to introduce her or himself.
On the first day of the main retreat a healing prayer took place at the Freedom Park led by the Indigenous knowledge keepers or traditional healers starting at 6.30, before sun rise. The ceremony was to bring the blessing of the ancestors and of the spirits of those who died during the struggle against apartheid, including those who died outside the country. Ancestors it was stressed are intelligent, they are alive and help to tell where an illness in a person is.
After the prayer, the vice chancellor of the University of South Africa (UNISA) opened the retreat. His main message was that the post-colonial world need healing as it has been allienated from what is happening in society for so long. Moreover, since the universities were also introduced as tools of domination, leading to cognitive injustice and allienation, he raised the question: what will it take to humanize the acadamy and then concluded that with the current marketization of universities, how to use the wisdom of communities in Africa is a daunting task.
The sessions that followed during the rest of the retreat focused on diverse ways of healing from violence. It was noted that this is an unfinished project because victims of violence fade into oblivion waiting with little prospect of healing. One question raised is how people relate to each other ie natives and non-natives. In the context of South Africa and other colonised areas, the presence of whites evokes anger among the natives, but it was stressed that it is out of the emotional chaos where the healing starts and these are challenges for the higher education sector. The question then is: how can the wisdom of communities in Africa be used and what are ones responsibilities in the healing?
The following are other questions raised: why is society characterised with anger and violence? Is it an issue of foreign epistemology? Why have we allowed this violence to continue? What is missing in the society we are trying to build? What knowledge can build harmonious society? Is failure to end violence a product or failure of universities? Can we envission a society freed from violence through universities? How can ubuntu or the African philosophy that ”I am because you are” be made the guiding principle? There was suggestion that Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) should be made part of the government policy. The question was also asked: what are the problems of institutionalising IKS? How can cross-disciplinary collaboration be organised in order to include the excluded knowledge?
Transdisciplinarity was then elaborated as a healing and rehumanising research approach by one professor Luutu from Uganda. He equated the prayer at Freedom Park as Going/Coming home. As cognitively injured, there must be self-healing epistemically. He furthermore noted how single disciplinarity decontexualizes things by taking them out of context. Indigenous healers who were close to nature were criminalized by missionaries and the school system, thus wounding and making Africans unable to come to the self. Transdisciplinality can only make sense by surrendering to our cultural accountability and to become a citizen one has to resolve the cultural identity.
He then asked the question-when will the post-colonial state think of going/coming home? States are part of the healing? Transdisciplinality according to Luutu arose out of some brave Europeans reflecting on how disciplines take apart the reality. Transdisciplinary is good only if it looks beyond the disciplines; helps to conceptualise in wholeness and capacity to think of relatedness.
Most important aspect of transdisciplinary is recognition of several layers of knowledge and that no knowledge should be privileged over another. He concluded by noting that we are not tapping on emerging opportunities and asked: Can Africans believe in themselves? With which language can they express themselves especially now when children are taught in English from nursery school? Whither Africa, what is wrong?
Diane Miller from the Mohawk Nation in Canada, addressed the geopolitical healing : peace and dignity: towards a common humanity. To be political is to make a choice while healing is restoring wholeness which can be done through transformative and restorative action. The presence of ethnostress is a result of disruption of aboriginal spirit and there is thus need for decolonizing methodologies.
Professor Crain Soudien, Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Cape Town, stressed the transformation and social responsiveness in university which forms one in a particular way as one imerses in particular logics, taught how to approach problems in a particular way. Ways of seeing in disciplines shape ones way of seeing. A major problem however is that universities are sites of particular kind of power and other bodies of knowledge have become reproducers of dominant power.
Ela Gandhi, Former Chancellor, Durban University of Technology, focused on weaving the webs of togetherness as the way towards non-violence especially now when the wealth of the world is put in developing weapons and in the context of money, power, greed, dominance and indulgence in alcohol and drugs. Indigenous knowledge systems she concluded will save us and the world since it teaches us to be “we” who must have control as there is belief in sharing. Traditional societies have concepts such as Ubuntu which tells how one can do things for the people.
Chris Kavelin from Australia, stressed the sovereignity of traditional healers on sharing. Gratitude is an engendering force. Pharmaceuticals pilating herbal remendy leads to loss of spiritual power. He then raised the question how the sense of unity for example, the clan system in the case of aboriginal communities in Australia can be regained.
Following this this line of argument the elders and traditional healers participating in the retreat stressed the need of expanding our understanding of education, socialization and becoming a member of community. They advocated for the need to go back to the rural areas and acknowledge the people. Since traditional medicine is used by 80% of the people, there has been a growing idea it can be extracted, but debate must focus on empirical footing of traditional medicine. Traditional spirituality should be seen as an approach given to ancestors to create a healing paradigm. The elders moreover stressed that governments should be taken to task in promoting traditional way of life, but there must be networking and talking of the colonial past.
Professor Howard Richards, USA and Chile focused on economics as a discipline and the economic crash and asked why the economic crash has come. His answer was the lack of Ubuntu. He added that the way to cope is to develop and practice community and that with unity of the hearts all things are possible. He saw this as the golden opportunity to change the logic of economics.
Another highlight was by Ivan Labra Moya from Chile on organisation workshop method and the concept of the unbounded organisation. With the origin of market economy, we are forced to buy what the market produces and presents. He then described the new method of large social psychology as a departure from the psychology which went into experementation room and thus ceased to be social psychology. He indicated that the large group organisation should be understood as a model of social psychology.where people learnt to be open and talk about their trauma. They have said they have been helped by the organisational workshop. His conclusion was that social psychology should move from small groups to large groups of the marginalized.
In summary, the main focus in this retreat was healing, restorative justice and citizenship education. There was a convergence on the issue of recreating the community and transdisciplinary was presented as an approach that could humanise the university and help in recreating the community. While this focused a great deal on societies once colonised, questions raised here are relevant to a globalised world.
Do we need healing here in Sweden and Europe?
Report of the 7th Retreat of the South African Chair (SARCHI) in Development Education, Pretoria, 21st -24th November, 2014