Following the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994, there has been a strong drive towards democratising education at all levels, primary, secondary and tertiary. The present paper examines some of the key ideas in the debate around transformation in higher education in South Africa, namely the notions of an African essence, culture and identity, as well as African knowledge systems. It contends that neither the idea of the 'essence of Africa' nor an emphasis on 'African culture and identity' constitutes an appropriate theoretical framework for conceptualising change in higher educational thought and practice in South Africa, the major problems turning on issues around essentialism and cultural relativism. Similarly, the post-colonialist and anti-discrimination discourse underpinning 'African ways of knowing' is unfortunately riddled with problems, logical and epistemological. While the present contribution is sympathetic to the basic concerns articulated in the respective debates, especially around the significance of indigenous languages, it offers both conceptual clarification as well as a critical (re-)evaluation of the pertinent issues. Thus, 'African knowledge' is argued to be a misnomer that raises more problems than it can conceivably solve. What its proponents hope to achieve is arguably better achieved by an emphasis on restorative justice that locates the principle of reconciliation within a basic framework of human rights.