Real transformation at UCT?

2014-08-05 10:01

UCT’s institutional attitude towards desegregation of its campuses is that of assimilation. Such an approach denies the contributions of the cultural capital of the black students in shaping the university ethos. Instead of true integration, black students are being absorbed into the white hegemonic culture of the institution. No wonder black students go through a stage of an identity crisis characterised by self-hatred, excessive afro-optimism, afro-pessimism and alienation. Those varied and conflicting mental states lead to the the common assertion from black students that “I first felt black when I came to UCT”.

The amount of paintings at UCT depicting the naked black body, poverty of black people and aspects of our so called “witchcraft” is concerning. This has psychological consequences of non-affirmation of the identity of black students which then results in a strengthened inferiority complex and the exacerbation of the superiority complex of white students.

Some say we should move on and forget the past, yet we are reminded of the past whenever we cast our eyes on UCT’s walls.

I had the honour of reading the university pledge to graduates of the UCT Graduate School of Business during the June vacation and I could not help but notice the four paintings at the different corners of Jameson hall, all of which depicted distinguished white men. Why is there no black person in ‘display’?. If you understand the stature of Jameson Hall you would not say the point is pedantic. I further noticed that the academic procession entered with Gaudeamus Igitur-a latin song. I then asked myself what is it that I can identify with in this hall? Would not a song ushering in the hopes of the new dispensation be more appropriate and more meaningful?

If UCT wants to signal its resolve to embrace real change, then it should consider with urgency changing its institutional culture and symbolism. And further stop containing and constraining integration through numerous policy loopholes and insurmountable political quagmires.

Simply granting access to black students and immersing them into the cultural ethos of the receiving institution does not achieve the transformation imagined by the likes of Steve Biko and Robert Sobukwe.

Because of the force of the new legislation we see a gradual change in the students and administrative staff demographics of the former white-only universities, but is this real transformation? I would argue that it is not. To deem whether a university is truly committed to transformation we need to look at those aspects that are not driven by the new laws. Such considerations would be the institutional culture and symbolism of the said university.

What do we want you ask? we want an inclusive curriculum, anti-bias education, inclusive institutional traditions and more representation in postgraduate studies. We do not simply want doors to be opened to undergraduate black students. That would be a slap in the face to those that gave their lives for us to be where we are as a country.

There must also be a prompt transformation of former black-only universities. Their transformation will be an indication that the education offered at those institutions is at par with universities such as Wits, UCT, UKZN, UP and Stellenbosch. Government needs to invest more in those universities not only in monetary value but with unparallel commitment to ensure their success. We cannot have former black-only universities retaining their ethnic and racial character at this point in time.

Discourse on transformation should be all encompassing, we must evaluate whether it is fair that UCT’s expenditure goes into white hands. When I look at the owners of food outlets and companies being contracted to do all sorts of work on campus, they are mostly white-owned companies. Shouldn’t this feature in our talks of transformation?

Access to institutions such as UCT is based on monetary value, to even a greater extent postgraduate studies. On the other hand, you have the institution’s cash flow ending up in the same hands time and time again. And you say to me UCT is transformed? Indeed, ignorance is bliss.

The winds of change are blowing within UCT, all that needs to be done from our side is set sail. Our institution should stop saying, “we have done much for transformation” what has been done is not sufficient nor close to it.

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