Full Professor | Stellenbosch University

Decolonising Knowledge: Can Ubuntu Ethics Save Us from Coloniality?

This research was a response from the South to the view that Europe and the North determines what counts as “scientific” knowledge.

Research informing summary:
Journal article: Decolonising Knowledge: Can Ubuntu Ethics Save Us from Coloniality? (2019)
Peer Reviewed


This research used a qualitative approach.

I worked conceptually, reading about the topic. I added my personal experiences from consultancy, academia, and political activism into my research.



This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

Key points

  • You can be a coloniser by promoting decolonisation. If you do not understand that the way you portray decolonisation is using colonial language, you reinforce the paradigm which you are trying to change.

This research was important on three levels. It was part of post-colonial literature, aimed at portraying so-called ‘non-western’ culture as a partner in knowledge creation. It was also politically important because of recent demonstrations aimed at breaking down colonial symbols, and academically important because of the the debate around institutional power and designing representative university curricula.


  • There are three challenges around the debate about decolonisation of knowledge- The first is the institutional power challenge, encompassing the fact that most knowledge production, including journals and conferences, are in the so-called centre, the North.

    We have to change the power asymmetry between the North and the South if we want to change the system. The second challenge is about what should be taught in universities, including what case studies, authors, and books are used. The third and most important challenge is about what is considered knowledge, particularly scientific knowledge.

  • There are three models used by southerners to respond to these challenges.

    The first model is to take northern knowledge and transfer it into a southern context without changing it. The second model is taking knowledge from the centre and translating it into the language and context of the periphery. The final model is to reject knowledge from the centre and develop alternative knowledge.

What it means

It is very important to bring corrections to European and American generalisations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. My work helps to correct these false generalisations, which are based on assumptions that are simply not true. In my teaching, we have developed a large resource of case studies of very successful African or Latin American companies to add to those from the North, and create a greater repository of knowledge . This is an example of how Southern knowledge can be brought into the universal domain.

How to use

  • Critically understand who you are, to understand the biases through which you view the world
  • Be open to alternative views of the world so that you can correct and augment your own knowledge in a better way
Special thanks to Ramya Zwaal for preparation assistance

We would like to extend a special thank you to Ramya Zwaal, for their invaluable contribution in assisting the preparation of this research summary.

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Naude, Piet. 'Decolonising Knowledge: Can Ubuntu Ethics Save Us from Coloniality?'. Acume. https://www.acume.org/r/decolonising-knowledge-can-ubuntu-ethics-save-us-from-coloniality/