Cape Town – The University of the Western Cape (UWC) has hailed its two-day conference aimed at deconstructing the colonial heritage of psychology a success.

Topics at the conference last week included decolonising psychology, epistemologies and theoretical developments. It also highlighted issues such as the psychological relationship between history, identity, and “hair”.

The conference, titled “Towards a Decolonial Psychology: Theories from the Global South”, was held in partnership with local and international universities and organisations.

According to Dr Saths Cooper (photo above): “Psychology was dominated by Euro- American notions of the human condition, while some 95% of the world’s population can trace their DNA to the oldest living ethnic group on Earth, the Khomani San of the southern Kgalagadi.” Dr Cooper, a clinical psychologist and former lecturer at UWC who was part of this journey, said: “The (psychology) profession remains 70% white after 25 years of democracy and it has been unable to meet the needs of a society confronting the demons of its past.

“Rather than blindly importing psychologies from elsewhere there is much to be gained from connecting with our histories of psychological work; be it the psychological work underlying black consciousness and the struggle for inclusive democracy.” Dr Cooper completed his undergraduate degree in psychology in prison and shared a cell block with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island.

Professor Kopano Ratele from Unisa and the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) told the gathering that decoloniality was not a fad but a global movement of critical scholars and “anybody who wants to see a better world”. “Somebody once said coloniality is all around us, like we’re fish in the water. And since the 1960s, at least in Africa, we’ve been trying to get out of this water,” said Prof Ratele.

Clinical psychologist and director of International Relations at UWC, Umesh Bawa, said in South Africa and the global South the issues faced by the poor, the marginalised and the vulnerable were not always succinctly addressed by the psychology we learnt. Mr Bawa said the conference was an “open and thoughtful way to engage with each other to think about the development of psychology which blends both the contributions of the North and South”.

Guest speaker and researcher at the MRC Sol Maria Fernandez Knight investigated how black women wear their natural hair in the workplace. “This past conference was important because we as scholars and practitioners need to address issues around domination, discrimination and even violence that persists not only in the field of psychology but in society in general,” said Fernandez Knight.”

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