With South Africa being one of youngest and newly independent nations in the world with just over 20 years of democracy, issues relating to transformation in institutions of higher learning are still pertinent. Members of the public, academics and support staff, and students from around Johannesburg engaged in what became a heated but robust debate over ‘issues that make them not feel at home and those that make them cherish transformation’ at a discussion on the book Being Home: Race, Culture and Transformation at SA Higher Education Institutions at the Kingsway Campus library.
While some students at the discussion shared their views on transformation and what makes them not feel at home at their respective tertiary institutions – and some members of staff in the academia sharing their frustrations with negative racial and cultural connotations attached to them – the discussion was deemed as one of the relevant topics that needed to be confronted quite often in university environments.
During the question and answer session, some students questioned universities for following Eurocentric education that does not promote their own South African history and philosophy of “intellects such as Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela and others”. Some students expressed that being labelled as a “coconut” because one went to a white school made them uncomfortable and that this needed to change.
Other frustrations oozed out at the discussion were related to gender inequalities. A lecturer that felt uncomfortable with students walking out of her class in the middle of a lecture because her “African accent” was not cool enough to entice students also shared that these were the things that she felt that growing up in an underprivileged background could not afford her a feeling of “being home” at her workplace.
One student asked: “Should racism be punishable in South Africa?”
Prof Salim Vally, Director: Centre for Education Rights and Transformation at UJ, said that racial categorising in higher education institutions is totally unacceptable. He said that the book was a good publication because “it confronts the very issues that face universities and their student and staff communities… issues such as conditional hospitality, the veil of politeness, culture of heteronomy”. He also explained the book as concrete in identifying factors that hinder transformation in higher education institutions.
“People come into universities with their own behaviors that they have learned from home and society, and expect universities to be different. Universities cannot entirely change how things are – it has to be a collective effort.” This was one of the views Prof Samantha Vice, a Professor in the Faculty of Humanities at Wits University, shared at UJ on Thursday night.
The talk was organised by the UJ Transformation Unit, UJ Library and the UKZN Press.