SA black academics an endangered species, says analyst

2013-10-11 00:00

LIKE rhinos, black academics will soon be like an endangered species.

So says political analyst Somadoda Fikeni, who said there is no coherent strategy to groom, nurture and retain black South African academics.

He said some of the institutions that claim to diversify bring in other minorities to “say we’ve brought diversity”.

“More African foreigners are brought in because they say they have impressive records.

“This causes frustration because some of the black scholars do not receive the research grants from their institutions,” said Fikeni.

Yesterday, The Witness reported that a top University of KwaZulu-Natal academic has written to the minister of Higher Education, asking him to intervene in the “marginalisation of South African-born black African academics”.

Professor Bonke Dumisa from UKZN personally handed a letter to Minister Blade Nzimande requesting him to intervene because he claims that South African black academics are treated like doormats.

However, UKZN has since denied the claims, saying the university will continue to attract and retain eminent academics who will contribute to the university’s vision to be “a premier university of African scholarship on the continent”, and say foreign nationals make up six percent of the university’s academic staff profile.

Not responding to this particular case, however, Fikeni says there needs to be campaigns to save such academics, the same way the country is trying to rescue the rhino population.

Retired historian Professor Jabulani Maphalala said this is not a new issue and that it started before the new South Africa began when the other nationals started lecturing in public universities.

“I wish Blade Nzimande could really intervene and I believe he would,” he said.

UKZN senior lecturer Dr Smangaliso Kumalo from the religion and theology department said he has not experienced any marginalisation at the university.

He believes that some local academics may not want to take administration posts because it is time-consuming.

“There is a mixture. There are those that think locals are marginalised, but I’m not sure of it,” he said.

Kumalo said the academic world does not pay well and some scholars may decide to explore other opportunities, while others who may want to climb the administration ladder find it difficult and feel marginalised.

However, Kumalo agrees that South African universities have a dire need for black South African scholars to fill both administrative and academic posts.

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