ISSN 1756-297XAFRICA: 0002 March 2008
HE Events Diary

Opportunities Jobs




The explosive news and video clip of four white male Afrikaner students at the University of the Free State coercing black hall-of-residence cleaners into a rugby-oriented initiation ceremony last year, including urinating on food the cleaners were made to eat, sparked outrage in South Africa and around the world. It has been held up an example of how many whites are still stuck in the apartheid era and of lingering racism in universities and society. The story received blanket coverage nationally and globally, including special reports on international television channels such as CNN and the BBC.

Meanwhile, the murder of University of Limpopo student Nkosinathi Mhlongo, by three fellow students following a South African Students' Congress-organised protest in Gauteng, barely made the news. There appear to be two strands of human rights violations emerging from these incidents, and the media and society's responses to them: racism by whites against black people prompts disgust, as it should, but not the killing of a black student by other black students. At the same time, for the past 14 years South African universities have crammed more than half a million students a day – of all races – into classrooms and campuses virtually without incident: it is quite extraordinary, in some ways, that there have not been more instances of overt racism such as that at Free State, though covert racism remains pervasive.

Reporting on these and related issues of race in South African higher education has been weak and there has been a singular lack of serious analysis of what it all means for universities and for the country. The public response of universities has also been weak, fueling perceptions of a sector that is at best scrambling to respond coherently to an unexpected event at Free State and, at worst, should have expected such an incident but has instead been sweeping the whole issue of racism under the carpet for the past decade.

In this Special Africa Edition of University World News, leading intellectuals in South Africa and abroad tackle the topic of ‘Race and South African universities’, examining questions that have been missed in the media and exploring issues of racism on campuses, impacts of the Free State debacle and how higher education might go about mending the lingering damage to the South African psyche of four decades of apartheid – both on campuses and in broader society.


Citizenship, racism and campus culture
Dr Nico Cloete – Centre for Higher Education Transformation
Condemnation by the local and international media of racist initiation practices at the University of the Free State raised very serious and interesting questions about the state of, and the responsibilities of, higher education in South Africa. The media – ranging from local print and television to BBC, CNN and The Economist – with one or two notable exceptions beat a drum of outrage and ‘back to the old South Africa’. Politicians and parliament tried to 'out-outrage' each other or, like the Freedom Front, deny any responsibility. The decision to devote a University Wold News Special Africa edition to the problem of racism in higher education is partially based on the fact that these outpourings shed little light on what was actually going on, and even less on how to move forward. This article deals with three recently reported incidents on campuses: racism at Free State, exploitation of students at Vaal University of Technology, and violence at the University of Limpopo. It concludes by looking forward and recommending an expert group to study the state of citizenship in higher education, with a focus on race issues, and the adoption by more universities of the many ‘best practice’ programmes already in place at individual universities to support students.
Full article on the University World News site

Bitter knowledge
Professor Jonathan Jansen – University of the Witwatersrand
How is it possible that young white students, born around the time of Nelson Mandela's release from prison, could hold such firm views about the past, such rigid views about black people and, especially among the boys, such fatalistic views about the future? This was the question that dogged me during my early years as the first black dean of education at the historically white University of Pretoria. It made no sense. These white students had no direct experience of apartheid; they did not live as masters and madams through the worst years of racial oppression; they did not police the townships during states of emergency; and the boys did not have to face the trauma of compulsory military service on and often beyond the borders of South Africa. Despite the fact that these were, technically speaking, post-apartheid children, their beliefs and behaviours mirrored those of their parents – the people who upheld, supported and benefited directly from white domination in the decades before they were born. The more I listened to my almost all-white undergraduate class of more than 2,000 students, the more this question besieged me. After seven years as dean I resigned to complete a book that seeks to answer that question. Knowledge in the blood: How white students remember and enact the past, should appear in late 2008. In many ways it predicts the recent racist behaviour of white male students at the University of the Free State.
Full article on the University World News site

Looking for consensus
Professor Martin Hall – Deputy vice-chancellor, University of Cape Town
Race is an issue on every university campus in South Africa. How can it be otherwise when we are less than three student cohorts away from legally enforced segregation, when race and class are coterminous for a large majority of the population and when the demographics of the staff of some universities are the inverse of the demographics of the country as a whole? The issue is not whether or not race is a key signifier of identity, or whether there is unfair discrimination on the basis of race. It is rather the absence of an adequate and appropriate language to identify and argue through the issues – a route to effective interventions that will take us beyond the salience of race. A lasting impression of the University of the Free State video is the inanity of the students involved, the fact that they can only express themselves through urinating in food and forcing humiliation on those who clean for them. If all discourse is metaphor, then the UFS video is emblematic of a failure to find any means of communication beyond the scatological. If this has in turn become a metaphor for the state of our universities – or for the state of the nation – then this is indeed the nadir of the South African dream.
Full article on the University World News site

The enduring legacy of apartheid in education
Dr Sipho Seepe – President, SA Institute of Race Relations
There is now an established radical tradition in educational scholarship which accepts Richard Shaull's assertion: There is no such thing as a neutral educational process. Education either functions as an instrument to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system, or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women participate in the transformation of their world (Shaull in Freire's 1993 Pedagogy of the Oppressed). However, the promises of radical education in South Africa remain under threat. It could be argued that education policy after apartheid has not addressed the cultural and ideological impressions stamped on the minds of black (and white) South Africans by the Verwoedian curriculum of apartheid. Instead, the shift has been towards placing emphasis on accountability, efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
Full article on the University World News site

From racism to valuing diversity
Professor Amanda Gouws – University of Stellenbosch
What the racism incident at the University of the Free State demonstrated was not only the lack of transformation in tertiary education but also the limited impact of reconciliation among people who were born a few years before the democratic transition. Both situations are cause for serious concern. What is shocking is the blatant and banal nature of the racism captured in the Kovsies (the university’s nickname) video, when we have started to think that these types of incidents are isolated and limited to right-wing thugs, not university students. It therefore begs an analysis of the limited nature of integration at historically Afrikaans universities, but also of the meaning of integration. When is a campus 'integrated’? When students of different race groups sit together in the same classroom or stay together in the same residence, yet do not mingle outside these spheres? Or when they respect each other's differences even when they do not live in the same residence? The complexities of historically Afrikaans universities are tied to what is referred to as the ‘language issue’.
Full article on the University World News site


Reflections on the Reitz incident implications
Professor Frederick Fourie – Vice-chancellor, University of the Free State
The emergence of the now infamous Reitz residence video at the University of the Free State, and the worldwide reaction to it, has shocked the higher education community in South Africa. For us as a university – for students, staff and management – it has been traumatic. It has been strongly and publicly condemned by the council and the management of the university. We have also apologised to all those affected and traumatised by the video. As an institution, UFS is dealing with the Reitz matter as quickly and fairly as possible. Council and executive management have already adopted a programme of action to address this specific matter as well as deeper issues raised by the incident. The fact that the video was produced as part of resistance by some white students to our new policy to increase diversity in residences – that is, the racial integration of residences, which is part of our broader transformation agenda – is even more troubling for us. Sadly, protest behaviour by some black students and student leaders in their reaction to the video has also not been free of racist talk and racist threats. Significant polarisation has occurred.
Full article on the University World News site

Racism at Free State – anticipating the future
Kalie Strydom, Willfred Greyling and Francois Strydom
If we consider ideological blindness, we recognise that there are always exceptions to the rule. Recent events at the University of the Free State, taken as evidence of the participants' attitudes, suggest to us that white and black, especially younger South Africans living in our region continue to battle with the legacy of the past. Their perceptions are that they have been used, abused and conveniently forgotten: indeed, black and white youths feel they have been invalidated and abandoned in a fast-changing, demanding and globalising world. These perceptions feed dynamics which are then reinforced by indoctrination and prejudice within their homes, churches and schools, as well as by their political leaders and community organisations. As construct psychologists like Cummins (2003) have argued, individuals who feel invalidated and-or wilfully abandoned will experience anxiety, anger, hostility and violence. We add another consequence: racism.
Full article on the University World News site


Living with racism at two universities
Dr Gerald Ouma – Kenyan postdoctoral fellow
The recent obnoxious and racist video by four white students at the University of the Free State has generated a furious hullabaloo on racism in South Africa. This has, in the main, been characterised by condemnations, threats and, to some extent, the homogenisation of white people as racists – notwithstanding the fact that the dastardly video has been roundly condemned by whites as well. A tourist visiting South Africa at the time the video surfaced would be forgiven for thinking that racism was long since dead and buried in this country, and that the four students were awakening an unwelcome ghost. The tourist may also have been tempted to believe that the video incident was an isolated case. How else would s/he take it, as it has been 14 years since racism as a state doctrine was discarded. Unlike the tourist, I have lived in the 'rainbow nation' for almost four years now, located in both an historically advantaged and in an historically disadvantaged university. I have experienced racism all through these four years, both within and outside the two institutions. In restaurants, shopping malls, supermarkets, taxis, on the streets, in the neighbourhood where I live, on the beaches – all over.
Full article on the University World News site

Students protest a range of grievances
South African students reacted sharply to revelations of racism at the University of the Free State, organising marches there and on campuses around the country. The South African Students’ Congress has been at the forefront of protests against racism which, as its president David Maimela has pointed out, is not a new issue for black students. Last week he welcomed news that Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor, has decided to appoint a commission of inquiry into racism and other forms of discrimination in universities. However, he said in a statement that “we believe it a rather late response” based on reaction to the embarrassing incident at Free State. Students would only celebrate when they saw the “heads of complacent and incompetent people” roll. Sasco was invited to write an article for this Special Africa Edition of University World News, but instead referred to statements that it has produced on the issue.
Full article on the University World News site


Racism – an event or a way of life on campuses?
Professor Teboho Moja – New York University
Another racial eruption on a campus in South Africa. Is it just one event involving the gross mistreatment of some human beings by others who happen to be of a different shade? Media coverage, national and international, has put pressure on a the University of the Free State to attend to one event – but not to get to the root of the problem. So is this a solution to racial tensions that still exist in South Africa? What does it take to get people to scrutinise racism? Must individuals be degraded and human rights sacrificed before we pay attention? An attack on a white citizen by black criminals might draw some attention too, but not as much due to high crime levels: an incident can be written off as just another criminal act. At what point is that act not seen as a racial attack? How do we explain an attack by black criminals on a black person? Is that not a violation of rights just as much as a racially motivated act is? Does racism only exist on campuses, or is there racism in broader society committed by people from both sides of the colour line? Is racism not a violation of the human rights that so many died for, and that Nelson Mandela upheld when he stated that never, never again would one racial group oppress another in South Africa. What about individuals oppressing other individuals? There are more questions than answers. But answering questions about different understandings of racism requires deep reflection and sharing of ideas, so that the different understandings can be brought closer together.
Full article on the University World News site

Racism revisited in South Africa
Dr Fred M Hayward – US political scientist, international HE consultant
Over the last few weeks, having returned to South Africa after a long absence, I have been struck by the sharp contrast between the racial situation in the country now and that when I first visited in 1992. One of the most striking aspects of the last years of the struggle against apartheid was the successes in responding to racism. Given the repression, violence, and humiliation perpetrated by apartheid, as well as the misinformation and myths it fostered, the aftermath of the elections in 1994 was amazing for the calm that followed, the reconciliation, forgiveness, confidence, eagerness to move forward, and what seemed to me a collective commitment to transform the nation. To be sure, there were some white South Africans who felt they could not live in a system of equality and many of them left the country. And there were some victims of apartheid who demanded retribution and eschewed reconciliation. But that was neither the tone of the country nor the norm.
Full article on the University World News site

Ban contacts with University of the Free State
Andy Schmulow – Victoria University, Melbourne
This month a video shot in a student residence on the campus of the University of the Free State made headlines the world over. In the video four strapping young Afrikaner males are seen humiliating, degrading and assaulting black female cleaners and an elderly black male cleaner in a ‘spoof’ aimed at UFS's halls-of-residence racial integration policy. They were members of the ‘Reitz’ residence, named after a former Boer Republic president. The content of the video is too disgusting to recount. Save to say it shamed all South Africans everywhere. The fall-out from the events at Free State has revealed truths about the institution and apartheid's die-hards, for the white students shooting the video did not do so in a vacuum. They did so because they attend an old-style Afrikaans university which at least tacitly, and at times expressly, condones racism and racial segregation. What happened at UFS was not just shocking in its own right – it strikes me as an attack on the most fundamental rights of all South Africans, myself as an academic working in Australia included.
Full article on the University World News site


Face race head-on
Dr Steven Friedman – Rhodes University, Idasa, Business Day
Our problem is not that we talk too much about race – it is that we do not talk about it enough. Recent racial incidents have again prompted some to ask why race is still an issue here. But the only thing surprising about the fact that race is still our major problem is that anyone is surprised. Those who insist that we should have stopped talking about race in 1994 seem to be under the odd impression that to get rid of a system in which one group dominates another is also automatically to end the attitudes it produced. But where has this ever happened? Not in the US, which is debating whether it is ready for a black president almost 150 years after slavery was scrapped and about 40 years after black people in the south gained their civil rights. Not in Australia, where parliament has finally apologised to the country's original inhabitants for the wrongs done to them ages after formal discrimination ended. Nor, indeed, anywhere else. So why are we surprised that the attitudes that sustained apartheid are still with us? asks Steven Friedman in Business Day.
Full article on the University World News site

Shared rejection of repulsive video is good news
Dr Fanie du Toit – Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, Cape Times
A series of race-related incidents has had a double effect on South Africans. It reminded us of our worst traits as a people. It also enabled South Africans to confront the scourge of racism together, reminding us how much common ground has been created since 1994. Racism generalises inferiority – and racists love incidents in which others are humiliated. Such incidents reinforce the superiority-inferiority split on which their world view is premised. Yet the repulsive video that emanated from the Reitz men's residence at the University of the Free State elicited overwhelming condemnation by the very groups associated with the 'culture' these students claimed to protect against integration. This should be welcomed. Indeed few were the voices who sought to 'understand' or 'contextualise' their actions. So the Free State incident made terrible news, but our shared rejection of it, good news, writes Fanie du Toit in the Cape Times.
Full article on the University World News site
Copyright University World News 2007-2008