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Research projects & Collaborations

Research projects & Collaborations

Endangered South African Languages Application and Digital Archive

Funded by the Department of Arts and Culture

The United Nations declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages for the promotion of language development, peace and reconciliation. One of the stated aims of the awareness campaign is the integration of indigenous languages into standard settings, bringing about empowerment through capacity building and through the elaboration of new knowledge. Khoekhoegowab and N!uu are two of the first languages spoken by inhabitants of the present day Western Cape and more broadly in the region.  These languages are associated with well documented extermination in the early colonial era and concomitant cultural genocide. They are endangered African languages that face  extinction, which would result in the loss of a rich and diverse heritage which was once endemic to South Africa. The South African National Heritage Resources Act (1999) foregrounds the protection of living heritage through indigenous knowledge systems as linked to language and memory through documentation. Such provision is also covered by the legally related South African National Archives Act of 1996. The South African National Heritage Resources Act (1999) makes it explicitly clear that every generation has the moral responsibility to protect the heritage of the nation for succeeding generations to promote reconciliation, understanding and respect through heritage to be researched and documented, preventing loss and thereby contributing to economic and social development of communities. The Pan South African Language Board (PANSALB) established within the rights of South Africans as enshrined within the 1996 Constitution of South Africa is in this regard tasked with the creation of conditions for the development and use of official languages such as the endangered Khoe and San languages and to thereby promote the fundamental rights to multilingualism in a diverse South Africa. A new higher education national language policy is currently being reviewed which will have implications for higher education transformation in South Africa, with undoubtedly direct implications for communities who have suffered indigenous cultural loss. This archive hopes to make a direct contribution to policy development and implement to the benefit of South Africa’s diverse language communities.

Global Indigenous Knowledges Archive

!Gâ re – Rangatirangtanga – Dadirri :Decolonizing the 'capture of knowledge'. This is a global collaboration on the creation of a digital indigenous knowledge archive with the Universities of Alberta, Bristol, Ghana, Massachusetts Amherst, Namibia, Auckland, Sydney, Western Australia, York, and Zheijiang.


Indigenous Knowledge exists as understandings, skills, and philosophies gathered over centuries by communities as original inhabitants of land. It may be considered a cluster of epistemologies, or ways of knowing, about our social and natural worlds. Colonization has, however, suppressed and invisibilized such knowledge and this has led to an imbalance in the way we conduct research and produce new knowledge. Indigenous Knowledge has remained geographically trapped within Indigenous community spaces, further marginalized through erased and endangered languages, and located outside universities. This project is an emancipatory initiative where knowledge will be reclaimed and new knowledge generated. Centred in knowledge restoration and responding to the marginalization of Indigenous knowledges, languages and cultural practice, it will undertake the challenge of increasing cultural understanding and setting a new research agenda of collaborative learning. The development and application of new Indigenous research concepts is critical in establishing meaningful partnerships between academia and Indigenous communities to support the decolonizing of knowledge production. Such a collaboration has not been established before, and will address new research problems in Africa, Europe, the Americas, and the Pacific as it puts into practice the process of decolonization as contesting and reframing narratives about Indigenous communities. Such processes will be catalytic in freeing research methods and research ethics from its knowledge capture. This will be facilitated through a comparative research concept development workshop with partner universities and their community representatives. The outcome will be a draft Indigenous concept database for further development and ownership by both communities and scholars, supported by their own local funding streams. This will lead to the development of a larger conference within two years with the aim of developing a co-authored and peer-reviewed digital archive for international Indigenous concepts that students can use in their research, and scholars can use in their teaching.

This project falls firmly within the WUN Global Challenge of Understanding Cultures through Decolonization. Many countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ghana, and the Americas have advanced quite far in addressing the process of restoring ab-Original Indigenous knowledge as mainstream knowledge. Within South Africa, this is still new with the formulation of the San 2017 Code of Ethics*, a first step in Africa by an Indigenous community to signal the importance of ethics when conducting research involving Indigenous communities. Universities in South Africa have thus far worked, and still largely continue to work, in isolation from communities that hold cultural knowledge through endangered languages. There is a tendency for university researchers to merely put out requests for ethical observation from communities rather than to engage with them as co-designers and co-producers of knowledge and research ethics. To this extent the project also addresses the WUN Global Challenge of Global Higher Education and Research in terms of critically examining/enabling global and local mobilities of people, ideas, programmes, knowledges in higher education. The comparative nature of the project enables us to learn from different environments in the process of bringing new invisibilized knowledge concepts for new research methods to the surface. It therefore also strengthens the legitimacy and authority of the university in a changing world through new decolonial knowledge-producing partnerships. The task of workshopping, compiling, and sharing a comparative Indigenous concept database will deepen the understanding of cultures on a global level. This restorative process will enable the use of new decolonial research methods and teaching practice. The research is conducted with universities across the globe, but also in unison with the Indigenous communities that hold this knowledge. Understanding cultures therefore takes place through a practical, actively engaged, and decolonized scholarly language framework.


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