Towards an Africanisation of community engagement and service learning
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This article argues that the South African research community could benefit by engaging in more collaborative partnerships within the African continent in relation to community engagement. This argument relates to literature in South Africa concerning an Africanised notion of service learning (SL) and community engagement (CE), university contributions to sustainable development, and recent discussions which suggest that South Africa is ready to explore local solutions to local problems in Africa. The article briefly introduces the global interest in universities and engagement, followed by a reflection on the historical context for African universities in this regard. The South African context is highlighted as a major player in advancing research and scholarship in relation to CE and SL. The article then refers to concerns within the South African research community that reflect the need for greater theorisation, a deepening of our understanding of how to Africanise an agenda, which has been, to a large extent, imported from the West, and how to address community perspectives and sustainable development in relation to CE and SL. The article concludes that one way forward is to explore the potential for intra-continental collaborations and comparative studies in order to expand our understanding of some of the above issues. Some examples of initiatives, studies and publications from other African countries are cited to illustrate ways in which mutual learning might take place across the continent. Key themes from these studies include the use of multi-partner collaborations, networking, a focus on community relationships, interdisciplinary approaches to community-identified concerns, and the application and elaboration of context-specific indigenous knowledge. It is suggested that one of the strengths of country initiatives outside of South Africa is their focus on CE which informs SL, rather than the other way around. Conversely, South African theoretical and pedagogical perspectives on SL can contribute to a broader understanding of this aspect within higher education institutions on the continent.