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African and Afrikaner 'ways of knowing'

Truth and the problems of superstition and 'blood knowledge'

Kai Horsthemke

The approbation, in the last few decades, of 'African ways of knowing' and, more recently, the critical emphasis on 'knowledge in the blood'—which refers to 'deeply entrenched' and 'received knowledge', notably of (white) Afrikaners—give rise to all kinds of questions and concerns. What makes certain ways of knowing and kinds of knowledge 'African' and 'Afrikaner', respectively? What do these ideas cover and include, and what falls outside their respective ambits? What functions are served by appealing to these notions? Amongst other things, the idea of 'African ways of knowing' constitutes part of a challenge to occidental belief systems, science, education and ethics. Theorists who single out certain ways of knowing as distinctly and uniquely 'African' or characteristically 'Afrikaner', respectively, not only emphasise their significance in post-colonialist and antiracist discourse but also maintain that the study of these is of profound relevance to educational and socio-political transformation. In this paper, I examine the notions in question, by seeking to understand how those who employ them might see them as plausible, before referring them to a particular epistemological framework. Problems that need to be addressed include relativism about knowledge and truth, as well as elevation of all kinds of beliefs—notably superstitions and racial prejudices—to the status of knowledge, for any real and sustainable transformation to occur.