STEPHANIE VAN DER PLANK
Last month, Minister for Higher Education and Training in South Africa Dr Blade Nzimande announced the establishment of a new Oversight Committee for Transformation in public universities. The committee aims to monitor transformation in universities and advise the minister on policies to combat racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. However, the establishment of this committee was not welcomed by all university members.
President of the Temporary Student Committee (TSC) Christopher Pappas expressed doubts regarding the new transformation committee. He told Perdeby that he does not think the committee will speed up transformation and reconciliation at universities. He said that when government fails to find effective solutions to redress the legacy of apartheid, it forces solutions that only create further division. Pappas believes that there is a need to ensure equality in class, race and gender at UP but says having a selection of “handpicked ruling party members sitting on a committee that is aimed at finger pointing and not coming up with viable solutions” will not improve the situation at any university.
TSC Deputy President Jordan Griffiths has concerns regarding the composition of the committee and its main members. The chairperson of the committee Prof. Malegapura Makgoba has allegedly experienced some negative publicity. While at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, he was accused of stifling academic freedom and freedom of speech and as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Wits he was suspended after abusing his position to access 13 academic files. “Transformation at universities is a delicate matter and [members] must be properly qualified and have the knowledge to tackle the issue in the correct manner. I do not see the committee that the minister has elected being able to carry out their mandate properly,” said Griffiths. He told Perdeby that if the minister believes that the new committee will make any substantive change or will be unbiased in their approach, “he’s dreaming”.
In response to this announcement, AfriForum Youth National Chairperson Charl Oberholzer wrote an article expressing his views on the committee and issued a public media release. In it, he voices several concerns about the real intentions of the Oversight Committee. He says that it is a shame that the committee will not be dealing with obstacles of finance and underperformance which he believes are the real problems facing students who want to go to university.
Oberholzer fears the real aim of the committee is to dictate the racial composition of universities by discriminating against minority groups. He says, “[The committee] is a one-sided institution which will lead to racial bias and discrimination.” He also believes that it is a way for government to monitor university admissions. He blames the committee for placing emphasis on “the colour of people” rather than their financial or academic challenges. “Transformation has become a code word within the ANC for obtaining more control in learning institutions,” says Oberholzer. However, SASCO Chairperson Kwara Kekana welcomes the committee but warns that transformation cannot happen overnight and that it requires acts of participatory democracy from students, workers and management alike. He said that SASCO has always maintained that there is serious need for transformation, especially in Afrikaner institutions like UP. “The Oversight Committee is long overdue where the University of Pretoria is concerned,” he said.
The University of Pretoria is still awaiting the Government Gazette to determine what the responsibilities and authority of the new committee will be.