More Professor Johans than black professors

2015-04-26 15:00

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Racist, exclusionary practices at Stellies are not restricted to students. Black academics also have to deal with the passively hostile culture of white Afrikanerdom, writes the Open Stellenbosch Collective

Many people are aware of the #RhodesMustFall movement at the University of Cape Town and the institutional racism it has highlighted.

These problems are nowhere more present than at Stellenbosch University, where Afrikaans systematically excludes black students and staff, and Afrikaner culture is celebrated over all others.

#OpenStellenbosch was created to challenge this. We are a movement of predominantly black students and staff at the university who refuse to accept the current pace of transformation.

In 2013, only 3.5% of all university professors were black, while 86% were white. In fact, there are more professors named Johan than there are black professors at our institution. Is this what transformation looks like 20 years after apartheid?

We do not believe that those in the students’ representative council or the senate understand the weight of normalised oppression that we experience at this overtly white university.

Although our institution claims that “continuous transformation is part of the core being of the university”, this could not be further from our everyday reality.

We have been having these conversations for more than a decade now and it is clear the management at Stellenbosch has been operating in bad faith. Many promises, little action.

There was the strategic framework of 1999, the vision 2012 document of 2000, the transformation strategy of 2008, the overarching strategic plan of 2009, the quality development plan, the employment equity plan, the diversity framework – and the list goes on. These have all failed because of a wholesale lack of political will to implement them – both then and now.

Although there are many things that need to change at Stellenbosch University, as a matter of urgency we are calling for the following:

.?No student should be forced to learn or communicate in Afrikaans and all classes must be available in English;

.?The institutional culture needs to change radically and rapidly to reflect diverse cultures and not only Afrikaner culture; and

.?The university needs to publicly acknowledge and actively remember the role Stellenbosch and its faculty played in the conceptualisation, implementation and maintenance of apartheid.

As black students we are frequently asked: “Why do you come here if you can’t speak Afrikaans?”

That question highlights the pervasive sense of ownership that some have at this university.

Stellenbosch – like all universities – is a public institution. This is not an Afrikaans university.

We have personally experienced institutional racism. When we are allocated rooms, we are intentionally paired with other black students. Initiation at residences involves explicit racism, homophobia and intimidation. We discourage black school-leaving friends from considering Stellenbosch – in an attempt to spare them the pain and humiliation of being silently subjugated by the passively hostile culture of Afrikanerdom.

Some academics are forced to sit through meetings conducted in Afrikaans where they do not understand anything. These norms help explain why members of the black faculty find Stellenbosch a hostile environment that sanctions Afrikaner culture. This privilege is reflected in the racial composition of teaching staff (see graphic).

The university and its management will no doubt issue new statements, new speeches, new plans, with the rector promising that it will be different this time.

But after years of empty promises and hollow commitments, we no longer trust what you say.

Speak to us with your actions, because your words will fall on deaf ears, as ours have for more than a decade.

Follow the collective on Twitter @OpenStellies or Facebook at www.facebook.com/openstellenbosch

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