“On The Brink of Collapse”: The Philosophical Society of South Africa

The Philosophical Society of South Africa (PSSA), a professional association of philosophers “representing the interests of the academic philosophical community in Southern Africa,” is “on the brink of collapse over allegations of racism,” according to the Mail & Guardian. At its annual meeting last month, the organization’s president, Vasti Roodt (Stellenbosch), and several black philosophers resigned their membership.

The issues appear to be the relative status of African and European philosophy in the profession in South Africa, and accusations of racism in the PSSA. The membership of the PSSA is “mostly white,” according to the Mail & Guardian article, and it appears to be the norm that European philosophy dominates teaching and research in the area. From the article:

Unisa professor Ndumiso Dladla told the gathering at Rhodes University that African philosophy has been marginalised. “African philosophy is not simply an exotic option that should be included in a menu of an assortment of things,” he said.

“We are in Africa. If you study philosophy in Germany, German philosophy is the very basis of philosophical training. But when you come to Africa, we have this anomalous situation where African philosophy is an exotic option which is offered to justify the complaints of some irritating little Oompa Loompas.”…

January’s meeting was an ideological battle between those opposed to the reform of the society and those who have called for its dissolution. The black professors quoted Black Consciousness Movement leader Steve Biko and writer Frantz Fanon when they said the PSSA should be consigned to the dustbins of history.

They said the society—described by its members as “in crisis”—failed to recognise the philosophical prowess of African thinkers before 1994 and into the democratic dispensation, and that there was blatant racism in the classroom and among colleagues.

PSSA secretary Anthony Oyowe (Kwazulu-Natal) is quoted in the article as saying:

We have encouraged those PSSA members who are unwilling to seriously consider the possibility that there is racism amongst us and that they might unwittingly—but nevertheless negligently—have contributed to it, to consider leaving our society.

Whether the PSSA will continue to exist is a question that will be taken up in a special meeting later this year. Reportedly, an alternative professional organization dedicated to African philosophy has already been created.

PSSA Logo by J. Pretorius

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