College of Human Sciences

First African philosophy society in SA launched at Unisa Humanities Conference

The 2017 School of Humanities Conference hosted by the College of Human Sciences left an indelible footprint in South Africa history after a new philosophical society – one that speaks to African knowledges and experiences was launched.

The launch of the Azanian Philosophical Society formed part of the Conference and the annual Black August Festival. It follows the January of 2017 incident when a group of Black philosophers attending the Philosophical Society of South Africa’s annual conference argued in a plenary session on the ethical and political basis for the dissolution of the society.

“Their argument was that like many academic societies and institutions in South Africa, the society was deeply implicated in a racist history of the subjugation not only of African people but their knowledges as well. Their argument was that the time had surely come to found a new society in which African philosophy rather than a lesser tradition to be ‘included’ would make up the very basis of philosophical practice,” said Ndumiso Dladla Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy, Practical and Systematic Theology and conference organiser.

Explaining in more detail, he provided a background to the challenges currently faced. “From the onset of the transition into the ‘new’ South Africa, there has been a unified incredulity directed against this ‘new’ which has come from members of the populace who were of the Pan Africanist and the Black Consciousness Movement persuasion. These commentators and critics variously pointed to the poverty of what has been christened ‘our liberation’ some with specific reference to the outstanding question of the restoration of sovereignty and the title to territory. Whereas many optimists had dismissed charges of ‘Faustian Uhuru’ as embittered and premature during the 90s, these dismissals are less tenable with the latest constitution of South Africa now in its early twenties.”

Dladla said that in South Africa, the indigenous conquered people are still largely landless and poor, especially vulnerable to police brutality, disease, pollution and death, while whites have really never been richer, safer and healthier as group. “What is worse is that this rings true even at the global level with white countries enjoying a superior quality of life while black ones despite an immense material wealth in natural and human resources that benefit the white nations, continue to be poor and prone to death as are blacks in white countries.”

Why Black August?

He then spoke on the importance of Black August and why they chose to launch the new society during this period.  He said in 1955, eight years after the untimely death of  Unisa law and philosophy graduate Anton Muziwakhe Lembede, several close friends and comrades like Ashby Peter Mda and Petlako Leballo celebrated the Annual Lembede Memorial Service in Orlando. The Lembede Memorial Service was re-christened as National Heroes Day in August 1959, the same year as the official formation of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania.

“It was on the first annual event of Heroes Day 1959 on which Sobukwe stated, ‘This memorial service is significant because it indicates our determination no longer to swallow the white man's propaganda. In deciding who our national heroes are, we set up our own criteria which needs must be different from those of the oppressor, so that his scoundrels are our heroes, and his ‘heroes’ are our renegades’,” said Dladla, adding that the new society is a new vehicle to advance the philosophical agenda of the indigenous conquered people and their engagements with others.  

He continued by saying that for those people of African descent across the Atlantic in the United States of America the month of August is significant yet for another reason. August is a time to honour and remember the affair of the Soledad brothers as well as the arrival of the first abducted slaves in Jamestown in August 1619. The month of August of 1970 saw the gunning down of Jonathan Jackson as he attempted to liberate imprisoned Black Liberation fighters William Christmas, James McClain, Khatari Gaulden, and Ruchel Magee.

“Consequently, the month began to be observed as Black August in remembrance of these fallen heroes in the struggle against white supremacy and as a time to study and discuss the history and theory surrounding the oppression of blacks. Since the late 70s the observance and practice of Black August went beyond the prisons and was adopted by various black organisations, cultural producers, musicians and artists, to raise consciousness around social and political issues facing the black community.”

African interpretation of SA history

In line with this, the 2017 School of Humanities Conference honoured the cultural and intellectual traditions which come out of the Black World and its pre-history. The calls by students since 2015 to decolonise the universities have borne many answers including an approach that calls itself “decoloniality”, which supposedly has its beginnings in the recognition that formal administrative and political decolonisation of the colonised world left behind epistemic, political and even metaphysical residue.

“Our understanding is that the intellectual traditions of Pan-Africanism, African philosophy, Black Studies, Black Theology amongst others have never mistaken the passing of administrative capitalism (where it has passed at all in Africa) for its wholesale demise. As such the conference put into dialogue various black and African traditions and heard what they have to say about the contemporary problems which with the Black World is faced.”

Beginning with the problems faced by black scholars, intellectuals and other cultural producers in a continually white supremacist society, the Conference explored the ways in which Pan-Africanism, African, and Black Nationalism continue to have significance to theory today both within the confines of academic philosophy but also in other humanities, social sciences and arts discipline.

“We have yet to produce an African interpretation of the South African history, there hasn’t been a sizeable considerable academic history of South Africa which has been produced by a black scholar after the period of 1994, said Dladla, adding that racism is a philosophically relevant subject, even though people still find it uncomfortable to consistently talk about it.

The Society will hold an AGM early next year. For more information, you can reach Dladla on

Click here to watch videos of the Conference.

 * Compiled by Rivonia Naidu-Hoffmeester and Nomshado Lubisi (CHS communication & marketing)







Publish date: 2017/10/18

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