KIRSTI BUICK

UP has featured in various print media in the past few weeks, and while the circumstances differed in each story, the central issue remained the same: racism.

The Mail & Guardian published a series of articles about UP over the festive season. The first of these, “Race row at Tukkies hots up” describes how the Higher Education Transformation Network, a “black-dominated lobby group” which claims a membership of 3 000 across the country’s various universities, stated that it “wanted to weaken the grip of AfriForum and the Freedom Front Plus on governance at Tukkies”.

In November last year, the group submitted a 14-page report, “Lack of Transformation at the University of Pretoria”, to the Department of Higher Education and Training. The organisation attributes this alleged lack of transformation to what they call the “unholy alliance” between AfriForum, the Freedom Front and university management.

Clearly, AfriForum does not believe this to be the case. Following the yet unresolved 2011 SRC elections, AfriForum released a statement describing the “Zanufication” of Tuks and blaming the withholding of election results on UP’s alleged sympathies with another contender for office, SASCO. “UP is extremely partial towards ANC-affiliated associations and with the current issues surrounding student parliament elections, it has simply reached boiling point,” claims AfriForum’s Charl Oberholzer.

The Higher Education Transformation Network has also taken issue with what they described as “a hostile working environment” for black staff, a concern that resurfaced in the Mail & Guardian a few weeks later. The article begins, “The battle to transform the University of Pretoria has taken another turn after a black professor at the institution claimed that, over the past decade, white executives had been ganging up with his department’s head to harass him.” The engineering professor Michael Kachienga’s case was taken on by the Higher Education Transformation Network. Kachienga, who has been working at UP since 2001, claims that he has been treated unfairly by the university, since he has not yet been promoted to a full professorship and his salary and allowances are allegedly not the same as those of other professors in the department. In response, UP stated that Kachienga had not been promoted “since he did not comply with the minimum criteria for appointment”.

Following this, the Mail and Guardian reported that Tuks had launched an investigation against Kachienga into “possible misconduct … resulting in repercussions in the press.”

More recently, and somewhat ironically, Tuks has been charged with racism from the other end of the spectrum. The university made an appearance on the front page of Pretoria News on 31 January. The article “Tuks race rumpus” discussed an AfriForum demonstration staged outside the offices of the Department of Higher Education, where the group painted their faces black in protest of the admission policy at UP’s veterinary institute – the only one in the country. AfriForum accused UP of unfairly favouring black students, and claimed to represent 30 white applicants, with a collective 139 distinctions, who were not accepted into the programme due to “poor academic performance”.

AfriForum states that the country “currently has a 34% vacancy rate of veterinarians and therefore AfriForum Youth would like to bring it under the attention of the minister that top students are currently not able to enter the system and address the current skills shortage.”

AfriForum claims that, according to the university, the Department of Higher Education “has set conditions on the earmarked funding directed to the Faculty. These conditions include that racial targets are met as to improve the equity profile of the Faculty of Veterinary Science in order to meet the national demographic.” The unintended consequence of this, the organisation further states, “is that many discrepancies are taking place in the Faculty in order to meet these targets. Not only are students subjected to racial categorisation but many students with between seven and nine distinctions are not admitted to the faculty while international students and students with lesser academic performance, irrespective of socio-economic circumstances, are admitted.”UP told Perdeby that they believe that through their campaign, AfriForum has been misleading the public with regard to the state of affairs at the Faculty of Veterinary Science at Onderstepoort. The university states that due to a restructuring of the programme, the 2012 selection criteria were more stringent, as both the 2010 and 2011 matriculant group had to be accommodated. UP also indicated that they wish to make the course more representative. They cite the 2010 figures for the Bachelor of Veterinary Science programme: only 16 of the 140 first years, 20 of the 137 second years, and 4 of the 114 third-year students were black .

Do you see racism as a problem at Tuks? Email perdeby@up.ac.za. or tweet @perdebynews.

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