Academic programme


The African Studies Unit offers a full academic programme, concentrated at the graduate level but also including some undergraduate courses. The following degrees are offered as part of the graduate programme:

  • Postgraduate Diploma in African Studies
  • Honours in African Studies
  • Taught Masters in African Studies (in which the dissertation counts 50%)
  • Research Masters in African Studies (by dissertation only)
  • PhD in African Studies

The African Studies Unit is staffed by faculty with a range of disciplinary backgrounds, who work collaboratively as an interdisciplinary team. Existing teaching strengths and research directions include:

  • African and African diasporic critical and intellectual traditions
  • Postcolonial and decolonial theory
  • Questions of public culture, heritage and memory
  • Questions of archive and curation
  • Questions of African literature and culture
  • Agrarian Studies and questions of land reform and redistribution
  • African political economy

Students have substantial freedom in constructing a curriculum that suits their interests. There are also two named streams in African Studies:

  • An Honours degree in African Literature and Culture
  • Honours and Masters degrees in Public Culture and Heritage in Africa


Two courses are offered at the undergraduate level. The course AXL1200S Africa: Culture, Identity and Globalisation is a service course offered to Engineering students at the University of Cape Town, and should not be taken by students registered in the Faculty of Humanities.

The course AXL 2200S Culture, Identity and Globalisation is offered as part of the main Humanities programme and is open to students in the Humanities in their second year and above, and to Semester Study Abroad students. This course has the subtitle “Thinking Africa Differently”, and sets the following questions as its guide:

What would it mean to think Africa differently? Where would we find the forms of language and the conceptual and methodological strategies which would allow us to do this? How do we escape the strictures of a dominant framework of ideas? What alternatives exist: historically in an anti-colonial and postcolonial tradition, and right now in contemporary popular culture and scholarly practice?

All other courses are offered at the graduate level. They are open to Honours and Masters students in the Humanities Faculty, and some other faculties. Some of the courses re open to senior Semester Study Abroad students. Admission to courses is at the discretion of the course convener.

The course AXL4201F Debates in African Studies: Intellectuals of the African Liberation is a required course for the Honours in African Studies. This course covers topics such as Pan-Africanism, Negritude and race, the politics and truth value of autobiographies, nationalism and national consciousness. Key authors such as Leopold Sedar Senghor, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Steve Biko are studied alongside Frantz Fanon, Amical Cabral, Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Mamphela Ramphele and Zubeida Jaffer.

The course AXL4203F Public Culture in Africa is a required course for the stream in Public Culture and Heritage. In 2013 this course will focus on questions of photography and visual culture, and will be taught collaboratively with students and faculty at Brown University and at the Rhode Island School of Design. Students will partner with the Curate Africa project, to curate photographic exhibitions themed around notions of play, leisure, sport, dance, and freedom through free time.

AXL4204F/S Public Culture Internship: This supervised internship can be completed in either semester. It allows students to intern with a museum, gallery, archive, or other institution of public culture, to work, do research and write a long paper.

The course AXL4205S The African Studies Archive is a requirement for students in the Public Culture and Heritage stream. In 2013 it will be themed around Haiti: Art, Historiography, Archive and Curation, and will include guest lecturers Anthony Bogues (of Brown University) and the artist Edouard Duval-Carrie. Students will work with Bogues and Carrie in preparing a major exhibition of Haitian art at the South African National Gallery.

The course AXL4206S Decolonial Theory is intended to give an introduction to the growing body of thought coming out of Latin America under the heading of decolonial theory, exemplified in the work of scholars like Walter Mignolo, Arturo Escobar, Enrique Dussel, Santiago Castro-Gomez, Nelson Maldonado-Torres, Anibal Quijano, and others. Key words and concepts include:

  • Coloniality (of power/ knowledge)
  • Geopolitics of knowledge
  • Colonial globality and global designs
  • Border theory and colonial difference
  • Modernity (colonial modernity, peripheral modernity, transmodernity)
  • Global designs and the local
  • The Indigenous (the Indigenous Movement)

A way in for us, will be the notion of reading decolonial theory from the Cape: How does a body of thought which frames a critique based on South American/ Latin American historical experiences translate to African contexts of practice?

The course AXL 5202F Problematising the Study of Africa: Interrogating the Disciplines is a required course for Masters students in African Studies. This course focuses the paradigms and practices that guide and govern the production of disciplinary knowledge. It seeks to do this by demonstrating the complex relationship between power and knowledge, within the context of the history of Africa since colonialism and the development of the disciplines that study this continent. It draws attention to the links between colonialism and the formation of disciplines, between imperialism and language studies: links,that not only cut across disciplines, but were in fact responsible for formulating those disciplinary boundaries in the first place.

The course AXL5203S Critical Issues in Heritage Studies is taught as a one-week intensive course in August, to accommodate in-service professionals. In this course we take a case study approach to look at currently breaking issues in heritage theory, policy and practice. In particular, we are interested in those points at which heritage forms a cutting edge in broader contestations around culture, identity and history. The emphasis in the course is on discussion, critique, and a close reading of theory. Topics include: the politics of memory after apartheid; politics and practices of repatriation and reburial of human remains; and the stylization of heritage and the re-making of city spaces. The aim of the course is twofold: to put you in touch with currently breaking debates in the field and the terms in which those debates are taking place, and to provide you with a set of conceptual resources, “tools to think with”.

Further links and information

Full details of our academic programme are available in the Humanities Faculty Handbooks

For many of our degrees, we admit students both at the beginning of the year (February), and mid-year at the start of the second semester (July).

Interested students are invited to email faculty working in their area of interest for further information, or to arrange a Skype meet.

Applications to the African Studies Unit are made through the central university application system

Students looking for financial assistance are directed to the university’s postgraduate funding office

Guidelines of the African Studies Association for Members’ Ethical Conduct in Research and Other Professional Undertakings in Africa:

For students in the department:

African Studies Unit Ethics Form 

African Studies Unit Informed Consent Form