RhodesMustFall: Decolonizing Education, Performative Pedagogy and Epistemic Disobedience
Abdul Kayum Ahmed

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Teachers College, Columbia University

Primary Discipline

When a black student threw feces against a bronze statue of British imperialist, Cecil John Rhodes, located at the University of Cape Town (UCT), it sparked the formation of the #RhodesMustFall (#RMF) movement in 2015. The black student-led #RMF movement sought to decolonize UCT by confronting institutional racism and patriarchy through a series of disruptive tactics. In order to make sense of their experiences in a predominantly white, liberal university, black students began de-linking from the dominant model of Euro-American knowledge, adopting pan-Africanism, black consciousness and black radical feminism as a decolonial framework. This process of de-linking or “epistemic disobedience”, generated an emergent idea of “Fallism” following the fall of the Rhodes statue. Students argued that Fallism disrupted dominant knowledge structures through its radical, performative pedagogy. Furthermore, students at Oxford University who were inspired by #RMF created the #RMF Oxford movement that also focused on decolonizing the university. This exportation of Fallism from the South to the North—from the colonized to the colonizer—constitutes a “theory from the south.” By adopting epistemic disobedience as a conceptual framework, I argue that Fallism can be constructed as an emergent theory generated through a dual process of de-linking and performative pedagogy.
About Abdul Kayum Ahmed
A. Kayum Ahmed is a Ph.D. candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University and an Adjunct Faculty member at Columbia Law School where he teaches classes on socio-economic rights, as well as African law, literature and politics. Before joining Columbia, Kayum served as Chief Executive Officer of the South African Human Rights Commission from 2010 to 2015. During his term at the Commission, Kayum led a team of 178 colleagues to monitor, protect and promote human rights in South Africa, and oversaw the management of nearly 45,000 human rights cases.Just before relocating to New York and in anticipation of his existential (read: mid-life) crisis, Kayum and his amazing wife travelled across the African continent from Cairo to Cape Town over nearly 100 days. He holds various degrees in law from the University of Oxford (MS.t), Leiden University (LL.M.), and the University of Cape Town (LL.B.), as well as degrees in anthropology (M.A.) and theology (B.A. Hons.).Kayum’s Ph.D. research on radical student movements intersects with his commitment to social justice activism. Following his involvement in anti-white supremacist protests at Columbia where he faced disciplinary action, Kayum was placed on a right-wing “Professor Watchlist” for advancing “leftist propaganda in the classroom.”

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