n Journal of Public Administration - 'Humanities to come' and 'the university without condition' - transforming the humanities in South Africa : the persistence of unresolved national agenda issues

Volume 47, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0036-0767



This article argues that transforming the humanities is about restoring the curious impulse, depth and purpose of 'the intellectual cause', the uncompromising quest for 'the truth'. In a country like South Africa it is also about the development of a discourse which articulates the 'African condition'; a discourse which African scholars can proudly own as theirs. This has not happened as yet, therefore the debate in the last section of this article is about 'the humanities to come - philosophical fragments'. The article examines the sources of the rather constricted transformation of humanities in South Africa and infers the direction transformed humanities at the university should be taking. However, the article emphasises that national issues of post-apartheid state formation, the superficiality of transformation at this level, and the fact that it filters down to the higher education system which the university is a part of, means the transformation of humanities will for a much longer time remain deformed. The analysis in the article draws inspiration from and is informed by Jacques Derrida's work Without alibi (2002), particularly his chapter titled 'The university without condition'. The 'to come' is derived from Derrida's notion of 'justice to come' (Derrida, 1997:306; Critchley, 2006:108).

The article uses these concepts as tools for reflections on the sources of the problems and future possibilities for the humanities in South Africa and perhaps, in the continent as a whole. The sources of the constricted transformation of the humanities, the article argues, are inextricably linked to the vicissitudes of the relationship between the state and the university and a higher level, the character of the national agenda of transformation. There is a negative dialectic at the very heart of post-1994 settlement - the dominance of continuities with the pre-1994 past undercuts the value of transformation, in economy, society and most importantly in the transformation of contents of knowledge and articulations of effective power within institutions of knowledge generation, particularly the university. The article proceeds to examine the policy landscape intended to transform higher education in South Africa, post-1994. It raises the question: to what extent have the policy objectives been achieved? In other words, how has the government fared in meeting the key elements indicated in its National Plan on Higher Education? There is obviously a mixed bag of successes and failures. The racial composition of universities has changed but the sense of ownership of the university space, both physical and intellectual, has not been transformed. The article also links the character the universities in South Africa acquired, post-1994, to the muted transformation of the humanities.

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