Government Must Force Universities To Transform

University of Cape Town (UCT) Students march to different parts of the campus during a university shut down. Students are protesting the double digit increase in fees and they want campus workers to be paid a decent living wage.

It’s been 22 years since the passing of Higher Education Act, Act 101 of 1997 and Education White Paper 3: A Programme for the Transformation of Higher Education, 1997 which guided institutions of higher learning in the new dispensation. The purpose of Higher Education Act and the White Paper through the National Plan for Higher Education, 2001, was to regulate Higher Education and to create “a single coordinated higher education system which promotes co-operative governance and provides for programme based higher education.” Which will ensure “redress of the past inequalities and to transform the higher education system to serve a new social order, to meet pressing national needs, and to respond to new realities and opportunities” in post-apartheid South Africa, writes SESHUPO J. MOSALA.

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The transition from Apartheid to a democratic South Africa required various institutions to go through metamorphosis and Institutions of Higher Learning (especially former Afrikaans universities) which played greater role in planning and implementation of apartheid policy were no different. The institutional restructuring which took place under the National Plan for Higher Education led to the merger of universities and reduced number of universities from 36 to 23.

The post-apartheid government keeping to its promise to “open the doors of learning to all” through the act and white paper put emphasis on access, equity, redress, democratisation and non-racialism and non-sexism when they addressed Higher Education Transformation. They also led to the formation of the Council on Higher Education (CHE) which monitors the state of higher education system. The white paper and the act had declared:

To establish a single coordinated higher education system which promotes cooperative governance and provides for programme based higher education; restructure and transform programmes and institutions to respond better to the human resource, economic and development needs of the republic; redress past discrimination and ensure representation and equal access; and promote the values which underlie an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, and freedom.

The act and white paper made provision to state supervision on institutions of higher learning with institution autonomy, thus relegating the transformation responsibility to the Councils and management of universities. The councils of former white university have remained white and male with individuals that are anti-transformation. Various university councils since 1997 have resorted to Tokenism instead of transformation especially in former white universities i.e. University of Cape Town, Mamphela Ramphele; University of Free State, Jonathan Jansen; North-West University, Ntate Kgwadi & Daryl Balia (first black Deputy Vice Chancellor in Potchefstroom Campus); University of Pretoria, Tawana Kupe; etc. Councils have hired black faces instead of advocating for real transformation which will ensure access, equity, democratisation and redress.

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The tokenism tactic has been used to mum those who are advocating for transformation. The hiring of black faces has had an opposing factor towards transformation. The former white universities have retained their white supremacy discriminative culture and the black faces are gatekeeping against transformation. Those who dare to challenge the status quo and champion transformation and decolonisation have been victimised, suspended and/or expelled from universities a point in case in the #FeesMustFall protests.

Tokenism gives the impression of transformation but in reality, there is no transformation. Black English speaking students are still subjected to Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in NWU, Potchefstroom Campus, (non-Afrikaans speaking student are subjected to interpretation services) and Afrikaner white supremacy culture still prevail on campus. Student populous on NWU – Potchefstroom Campus still doesn’t reflect the demographics of the province. White Afrikaner supremacy discriminative culture continues in UFS and UP which has made racial discrimination a regular thing on those universities. Most of these universities are non-compliance with the employment equity act. University councils have no interests in championing transformation in these institutions which continually perpetuate white supremacy.

It is obvious that 10 years since the publication of Ministerial Committee on Transformation, Social Cohesion and the Elimination of Discrimination in Public Higher Education Institutions report that discrimination, particularly racism and sexism continue in former white universities. Therefore, it’s up to the government to force transformation in these institutions especially since the 2017 Higher Education Amendment Act which gives more power to the Higher Education and Training minister.

Seshupo J. Mosala is a PhD candidate student at the North-West University (Potchefstroom campus)

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of The Daily Vox.

Featured image by Ashraf Hendricks