Fast track for local blacks

March 1, 2002

THES reporters examine appointment systems worldwide:

Anessa Adam, a junior lecturer studying for a masters in business finance at the University of the Wi****ersrand in Johannesburg, is one of 19 bright black students on a fast track into academia.

Grow Our Own Timber (Goot) began two years ago to speed change in a university whose faculty is still dominated by white men. Similar schemes are under way at the universities of Cape Town, Natal and Free State.

Equality laws demand that all employers open access to black people disadvantaged for decades by racial discrimination. With the exception of those whites who complain of reverse discrimination, the drive towards equal opportunities for blacks and women is seen as a necessary constraint on appointments in a skills-short country that suffers from long neglect of its black majority and women.

Schemes such as Goot are needed not only for moral and legal reasons, but also because apartheid's lingering effect means there are too few graduates to supply a fairly sophisticated economy and because a private sector also governed by equity laws snaps up black graduates at twice or more what institutions can pay.

Recruiting staff from elsewhere in Africa has only partly alleviated the racial skew. Other barriers to change include low pay, a tiny pool of black and female postgraduates and lack of financial support for them.

Hilary Geber, the Goot coordinator, said that with black students comprising nearly 60 per cent of Wi****ersrand's 18,000 students, there was an urgent need for black role models.

Five years after apartheid's end, 80 per cent of full-time academics at universities and 72 per cent at technikons were white. Only one in five lecturers at historically white universities was black, against 60 per cent at formerly "black" institutions. At Afrikaans universities, only 5 per cent of academics were black in 1999, the last year for which full statistics are available.

Blacks were slightly better represented among executives and support professionals at all institutions. Still, the government's National Plan says that black and female appointments show "an unacceptable decline at the more senior levels".

Academic appointments are filled in the usual way, with each being approved by senate in a process controlled by the institution. Foreign applicants are welcome, but locals have an edge. Overseas academics have had problems with a xenophobic home affairs department, but institutions and the education department have been working with home affairs to address this.

Appointments processes begin to depart from the norm at senior levels. Sanette Boshoff, director of higher education management support for the department, said South Africa differed in requiring that all top posts be filled in consultation with the senate and institutional forums - bodies set up to represent staff and students.

After apartheid's end, politics plagued top appointments as the desire for black academics in high posts led to long consultative and public selection processes that sometimes led to campus trauma, protests and mudslinging.

Such problems have largely been overcome, Ms Boshoff said. "Selection processes are still consultative and comply with national laws and institutional rules, but they are less public and now mostly involve forums to a slightly lesser degree."

Goot is but one of several strategies that institutions have hatched to meet equity requirements - others include contract appointments, voluntary early retirement schemes, development programmes, postgraduate opportunities for black staff and students, and development departments and equity officers.

Fast-track schemes are starting to prove their worth. Under Goot, bright black students are identified by departments and provided with a mentor and financial aid for postgraduate study, a paid three-year associate lecturing contract and research funds via their mentor. The Wits scheme has ten women and nine men on board. It would expand to 30 this year and may be extended, Ms Geber said.

For information about Goot, visit


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