SA blacks still suffer 'campus racism'

May 16, 2003

Racism is forcing black academics to leave South Africa's universities, thwarting efforts to make campuses more diverse and representative, a report says.

Nearly a decade after the end of apartheid, blacks hold less than 20 per cent of senior posts at historically white institutions. Black Academics on the Move by Cheryl-Ann Potgieter, a research psychologist at the University of Pretoria, found that black lecturers were resigning for two main reasons: racism and poor leadership and management.

Many black staff have left historically black for formerly white institutions post-apartheid, while a large number have exited the world of higher education or are considering doing so.

Not only is there a dearth of black academics at most institutions, but they are mostly still in the lower ranks. Black women are scarcer than men and occupy lower positions - in 2001, Professor Potgieter was one of only two black women at professorial level at Pretoria.

The report was commissioned by the Centre for Higher Education Transformation. Professor Potgieter interviewed 30 black academics who have worked at five formerly white universities or technikons (two English and three Afrikaans), and at three historically black institutions, to find out why they left.

The report says: "Participants labelled lack of institutional change and certain attitudes, actions and ideologies, racist."

They found lack of commitment to transformation and white staff still in control.

In the case of some appointments of black senior managers, they were seen as "merely a colour change" and their ideology in no way threatened core anti-transformation agendas.

One interviewee says: "Apartheid is still alive and well in these white institutions."

Historically liberal (English) universities were seen as disguising "covert" racism - "the institution is viewed as hiding behind its historical reputation for principled opposition to apartheid to avoid examining current practices that could be seen as racist".

Black staff were seen as "inferior", were not being "heard" or sometimes seemed invisible, overlooked for appointment or viewed as a "token" appointment.

Racism at "white" institutions existed in evaluation and expectations.

Black lecturers had to be "super-human beings" - good teachers, counsellors to black students and able to fit into the institutional context. Mistakes were exaggerated, often with serious results.

Poor management or leadership was, for some academics, linked to racism and transformation. For others, it was about "the core functions, professionalism and responsiveness of institutions".

Historically black institutions were criticised for not realising they too should transform. Women complained of sexism at "black" institutions. Some people also left because of lack of professionalism.

Some left Afrikaans universities because they were not happy with the stress on fundraising and entrepreneurship. Some joined white institutions in the political wish to help transform them, others moved for personal reasons, to test their marketability or for higher pay.

"Creating an enabling environment for black academics is a huge challenge and is not going to happen overnight," Professor Potgieter concludes.

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