- Decolonizing Philosophy:Dladla's Here is a Table
In his recent Here is a Table: a Philosophical Essay on the History of Race in South Africa, Ndumiso Dladla brings to the attention of a number of readers the Bantu-originated worldviews of many Black South Africans, and does so in a way that sheds new light on a number of conceptual areas. This work deserves broad attention, and one would hope that it can be published in editions widely available in the US and the UK.
Dladla theorizes on more than one conceptual front simultaneously, with his strongest lines of argument having to do with the ahistoricity of Western analytic philosophy, its pretensions to universality, and the defects of what in the US is often termed "race blindness," which, of course, frequently translates into still another form of racism. In offering up the tradition of Ubuntu as a basis for philosophical and conceptual theorzing, Dladla draws attention to lines of analysis that have recently been employed not only by philosophers of color but also by feminists and other thinkers who are concerned about the patriarchal and normative stances of philosophy as it has been historically practiced in Eurocentric arenas. His project is similar, but somewhat different in scope, to that of the late Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze (whom he cites), who placed together a number of pieces from West African thinkers representing the Akan Ashanti, Igbo and other traditions in his well-known anthology Postcolonial African Philosophy.1
Part of Dladla's argument is that the falsely alleged universality of the Western tradition, particularly as it manifests itself in analytic philosophy, has much to do not only with the history of oppression of colonized peoples, but also with the supporting views that often come to dominate discourse in universities and other places of learning in the very geographic regions that were originally subject to conquest. As he writes toward the beginning of his work, "What one finds in practice then are African history, politics, epistemology, psychology within this Ghetto where the history, politics, philosophy and psychology departments in the same university continue to exist undisturbed in their unbending Eurocentrism and racism" (33). Dladla's views are new to us, in the main, because we typically see so little work from this region of the African continent, and, as just mentioned, much of the work that has come from African-originated cultures emanates from the very areas that were originally subject to population depredation through slavery.
As Fanon does repeatedly in his work—perhaps most famously in his Preface to Wretched of the Earth, where he castigates the European notion of "brotherhood" derived from Enlightenment theorizing—Dladla notes that while post-1994 South Africa is supposed to be a "non-racialized" society, the very notions that give rise to this view are embedded in the cultures of the original oppressors, and hence do not adequately capture the structure of hegemony and conquest that makes a Black view of European thinking or [End Page 219] thinkers completely different from a Euro-derived view of African thinking. As he notes, "In the past twenty years we have borne witness to the rise of non-racialism in South Africa… The courts have ruled, for instance, that the existence of 'Blacks only' organizations is unconstitutional…" (24). Among his recommendations is that at least some South Africans theorize on the basis of Ubuntu, which he defines as "affirm[ing] one's humanity by recognizing the humanity of others" (74). As many feminist theorists in the West have argued, the "lone knower" model that forms the basis for most Western epistemology, especially insofar as it might be thought to have derived, at least in spirit, from Descartes, leaves out an enormous number of patterns of human thought.
Citing Ramose, Biko and many other Black South African thinkers, Dladla divides his work into five interlocking chapters, each of which addresses an issue that might be deemed to have to do with traditional philosophy or history, but does so from his critical point of view, which...