South Africa: Maties 'not black enough'

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Mar 11 13:03:46 UTC 2007

Maties 'not black enough'

David Macfarlane

10 March 2007 11:59

Stellenbosch University has the lowest African student enrolment in the
country, and black academics appear reluctant to apply for posts there, a
Council of Higher Education (CHE) audit has found. Central to both trends
are perceptions of the universitys deeply conservative culture, including
a controversial language policy that still prioritises Afrikaans. The CHE
conducts institutional audits of universities as part of its statutory
obligation to advise Education Minister Naledi Pandor. The audit praises
some aspects of Stellenbosch, pointing out that it is South Africas third
most productive research university, makes innovative use of technology to
support learning, has one of the highest proportions of postgraduate
students and that students have a high reputation in the world of work.

But it finds transformation is proceeding very slowly, specially in regard
to student and staff numbers. More than a decade into a democratic
dispensation in South Africa, Stellenbosch remains as the institution with
the smallest number of African student enrolments in the country, it says.
Figures supplied by Stellenbosch show that of nearly 22 600 students, 72%
are white, 14% coloured, 12% African and 0,02% Indian. The proportions
improve at postgraduate level, where 58% of students are white, 24%
African, 14% coloured and 3% Indian. Of 770 permanent staff, just 20 are
African, 11 are Indian, 75 coloured and 664 white. But there are almost as
many black as white temporary staff, such as junior lecturers, and this is
a considerable improvement from staff figures in 1996, the audit notes.

It quotes interviews with staff and students as suggesting there is deeply
ingrained conservatism in institutional structures, especially in relation
to student services and residences, which may be delaying, if not
obstructing, the institutions progress towards the achievement of its goal
of diversity in campus life. It adds that Stellenbosch's language policy,
which requires staff to be able to lecture in Afrikaans or to be amenable
to learning the language well enough in order to be able to teach in it,
works against a more equitable profile and could be precluding black
academics from applying for positions. Jan Botha, professor in
Stellenbosch's academic planning and quality assurance division, said
senior management is still to discuss the audit report in detail. But most
of the issues it raised have already been identified for attention.

He said the language policy is under review, that the university
recognises that the staff and student diversity profile is not ideal, and
there is a concerted effort to address aspects of institutional culture.
The audits recommendations therefore do not come as a surprise. Education
faculty dean Yusuf Waghid said there are no strategies in place to develop
a culture thats not alien to all staff ... There is a lack of recognising
what's different and other. However, there had been some positive changes.
I'm black and Muslim, and when I came here 10 years ago I felt
marginalised. Black colleagues were asked, Is this a foreign invasion?
We've shifted a lot since then: the fact that most of this faculty are
white, yet supported me in becoming dean, as did the senate and council,
shows a recognition of diversity.

I don't experience alienation -- though some do -- and I feel safe and
welcome, more than I did as a student at the University of the Western
Cape. Waghid said the education faculty has seen the most transformation
at Stellenbosch, and black academics have contributed to excellence, not
to any lowering of standards. But the language policy has to change, he
said, otherwise we wont attract many students from disadvantaged
backgrounds -- namely African students. SRC member Danmur Lucas said black
students often find it challenging to integrate socially on campus and are
often in a minority in residences.  I've found these students lose all
interest in residence activities, in part because activities are often
alien to their culture.

But Lucas added that being coloured myself, I've found the university
environment very welcoming Support services for students go to huge
lengths to accommodate and assist students financially, academically and
psychologically. Our challenge is to influence peoples comfort zones, so
people from different backgrounds feel comfortable around one another.
When you look at social interaction in residences, its encouraging to note
how far this level of acceptance has advanced.


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