Let's Think

Stellenbosch: Is it really about transformation?

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When a senior member of the executive branch of government effectively gatecrashes a meeting of the legislative arm to push his own “radical” agenda, it is cause for concern.

That is what happened last week when the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, decided to attend a meeting of the parliamentary portfolio committee with the management of the Stellenbosch University (SU). He used the opportunity to attack not only the US for a lack of transformation, but delivered his sermon that transformation at universities needed to be “radicalised”.

“You cannot have a university that has a majority white students ... you would expect universities in the Western Cape to have majority coloured students,” he said.

What went by unnoticed is that just the previous week the SU, with its 62% white students, elected not a white or a coloured but a black student, Axolile Qina, as its new SRC chairperson.

Also last week, at the University of Pretoria, another black student, Kwena Moloto, was elected president of the SRC. But maybe for Minister Nzimande and his party Moloto will not count, since he is a member of the opposition Democratic Alliance, which is now the biggest party on the campus.

If Minister Nzimande wants to make a difference to the demographic composition on South African university campuses, he should have a word with his colleague responsible for basic education to sort out the mess in our schools. If the school system produced better quality candidates the demographic profile of universities would reflect the result.

It cannot be disputed that racism is still a problem on and off the SU campus. But it is an issue not restricted to the campus, as illustrated by the example used by Qina in an interview with News24.

He told the news outlet that he was blocked from entering a night spot in Stellenbosch, off-campus, in 2011.

“I wasn’t allowed into a club in my first year and was asked for my student card by security to see if I was actually a student on campus,” he is quoted.

The myth that racism is just a ‘white’ phenomenon was also blown wide open during violent protests the same week on the Stellenbosch campus of the Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute. In video footage taken when sjambok-wielding protesters ran amok, one of them can be heard saying “You f****ng white b*tch, what are you doing here?”

Violent protest by students is also not restricted to Stellenbosch or just about the issue of the language of tuition. Recently, during the time of the SRC election at the Tshwane University of Technology‚ a number of students were left injured after fights between members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the African National Congress (ANC).

According to a recent statement by the chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee, Yvonne Phosa, incidents of a similar violent nature have also taken place at Wits University.

Repeat of 1976

While, increasingly, serious commentators are starting to warn that what is presently happening at educational institutions might escalate into a repeat of the student revolt of 1976, those in responsible positions like Minister Nzimande should choose their words carefully. The last thing South Africa needs now is for those in responsible positions to deliberately radicalise students.

Minister Nzimande should carefully look at the TV footage of these incidents of violence and take note of the recurring prominence of the red berets of the EFF among the protesters.

Maybe he should have a look at the definition in the Merriman-Webster dictionary of ‘transformation’, which is given as ‘to change (something) completely and usually in a good way’.

Then he should page to ‘radicalise’ where he would find ‘to make radical especially in politics/ having extreme political or social views that are not shared by most people’.

But then, many suspect that Minister Nzimande and others of his Marxist ilk or true blue ‘radicals’, still deep down feel cheated out of their ‘revolution’ by the peaceful transition engineered in the country during the early 1990s.

by Piet Coetzer

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