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Prof Jansen, it’s Black with a capital B — and you forgot about white ‘affirmative action’


A Unisa lecturer responds to Jonathan Jansen’s article on its ‘race problem’

Prof Jonathan Jansen starts by attributing “damage to our universities” to Unisa’s transformational criteria. I am not sure whether transformation at any institution of higher learning could do reputational harm to a system that needs fixing.

He correctly points out that the role of the university, among other things, is to “engage the brightest young minds available” and “to set the highest standards for research and teaching”, which Unisa has done for more than 140 years to date and is still doing.

Unisa still contributes to the large numbers of university graduates in SA and abroad. The throughput of students at Unisa happens as a result of combined efforts of those academics who belong to the designated groups in terms of employment equity and affirmative action policies of the government.

Designated groups, according to employment equity, include Black, Indian and Coloured people as well as White women and people living with disabilities. In his characterisation of “designated groups”, Jansen singled out “black appointments and others” without mentioning “white women” by name, as if they are not part of the group. This is a deliberate, selective judgment because if he says “black appointments and others” it will attract news headlines because of Black people’s association with mediocrity, which is a fallacy anyway.

Black academics and others, to borrow from his concept of “others”, are diligent in developing study material, teaching and researching even under awful circumstances created by colonialism.

To get straight to the point, all academics — Black, White, Indian and Coloured — acquired their qualifications from the same accredited institutions.

However, during colonialism, which Jansen forgot to emphasise, opportunities for promotions for Blacks were legally limited and skewed in favour of Whites. Thus, for Unisa to implement a redress is not by mistake, but a compliance with the government policies of employment equity and affirmative action, which is the right thing to do.

Black and White women academics stand to benefit from this honourable project that Unisa should, unapologetically, implement as a matter of fact.

It is an insult for Jansen to juxtapose “weakest academics” with a revered institution like Unisa. To add salt to the fresh wound, Jansen uses racist language, to say the least, that “if you are black, it’s a walk in the park to the first rank of the professorship”.

Despite affirmative action, White academics are still teaching at the prestigious universities of Pretoria and Free State.

The use of a small letter “b” for Black is to show – according to Jansen – that Black academics’ knowledge and qualifications should be belittled for being Black.

Jansen only gives advice to Black academics that “a black person with any self-respect would not apply” without also rendering the same to other designated group members such as White women, Indians and Coloureds. What a piece of advice!

Singling out only Black academics to “not apply” but White women, Indian and Coloured academics to apply. What irony! Instead, Jansen should encourage Black academics to typically apply because they were the ones who experienced the most horrendous discrimination during colonialism compared to all other races. Not to say others were not on the receiving end.

If Jansen agrees that a similar redress was done for “generations of white, Afrikaans-speaking men” to become professors “on the flimsiest of academic criteria and loyalty to the Afrikaner establishment”, why can’t that be done for the designated group that includes, for that matter, White women, Coloureds and Indians on the strongest of academic criteria? Is it because the Black academics are in the mix?

Despite affirmative action, White academics are still teaching at the prestigious universities of Pretoria and Free State, and still contribute to the throughput of those institutions of higher learning where some of our Black students aspire to be admitted.

But according to Jansen, if the same is done with Black academics, it will produce “automatons for the labour market, or narrow-minded technicians for the workplace”.

This is an insult to Black people in general, and I think Jansen should apologise unconditionally and thank Unisa for doing what it has done for other South Africans, including White “affirmative action” academics.

To Jansen, quantity is the same as quality. To tell it as it is, it is not new that someone can be a senior lecturer with a master’s degree. When I was first appointed at Unisa in 2011, there were some colleagues who were employed as “lecturers with only an honours” degree and some senior lecturers with only a master’s degree at a college of economics and management science, college of law and college of accounting.

Is it because the majority of colleagues at the college of economics and management science were White? I do not know the answer. But I think Unisa ought to do the right thing and implement transformation as it has been at the universities of Pretoria and Free State, as Jansen claimed.

There is no “race activism” and there are no “groupings that call themselves ‘black’ by various names” at Unisa, but designated groups in terms of government policies of employment equity and affirmative action. And this is not to defend mediocrity, as Black academics acquired their qualifications at the universities where White students attend and publish their articles in the same journals White academics use.

• Madidimalo Richard Moila is a lecturer at Unisa. This was written in his personal capacity.



Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER

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