Current debates on internationalisation are couched in relation to globalisation, and gives the impression that this phenomenon is new. There is also a tendency to discuss internationalisation in relation to various rationales, with economic rationales being dominant. This article challenges the assumption that internationalisation is something new and the notion that it is mainly driven by economic rationales. It argues that in colonial contexts, international education is as old as the advent of colonialism. In the context of South Africa international education is as old as the emergence of higher education in South Africa. Therefore current discussions on the role of international education as part of, or a response to globalisation, should also incorporate the role of international education in colonial conquest and perpetuation of segregation, failing which, discussions of internationalisation will be superficial and not do justice to the complex, divided and conflict-ridden nature of South African society.