Professor's journey to the top: ‘To hell with it, I’m not going anywhere!’

2014-08-03 15:00

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

When Pumla Gqola was a junior lecturer, a group of white students went to the dean of humanities and said they “didn’t want to be taught by a k****r”.

Gqola was 27 and lecturing in South African ­literature at the University of the Free State.

It wasn’t the students’ flagrant racism that bothered her – she says she expected it during the country’s political transition – but that the dean had even entertained their complaints.

The proper procedure for students dissatisfied with a lecturer would have been to complain to the head of department first. But she says this group knew the head wouldn’t “entertain” their racism and “went straight to somebody they ­believed in”.

“This showed they were confident he was going to side with them.”

Gqola (41), now an associate professor at Wits University, has a reputation for frank and fierce opinions, and has never been afraid to ask questions, so she emailed the dean.

When he hadn’t responded 15 minutes later, she marched to his office and demanded an explanation.

That incident could have broken many other black academics, she says, but she refused to give up her dream of being a professor.

“Now that I think about it, it did scare me a bit but because I had support from this community of black women academics, I just said: ‘To hell with it, I am not going anywhere!’

“If I had been alone and didn’t have the support of the [academic] community, I would probably not be here today. I know many black PhDs who just give up because of the racism and the intellectual insults, and go abroad.”

She’s spent years studying African literature, publishing scores of research papers as part of her journey to a professorship – a title she earned in 2007 after a rigorous panel review.

Gqola delayed starting a family to prioritise her career and says there is time for everything in life.

“All you have to do is make a choice that suits you.”

White students may not be marching to the dean’s office any more, but it remains difficult to be a black academic.

“They are constantly intellectually insulted by their [white] peers, who always think they need development,” Gqola says.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
Traffic
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.