How black are our universities?

Johannesburg - How rife is racism at our universities? We got basic statistics to provide a transformation snapshot of some of the bigger academic institutions in our country.

Many of them have changed little since the massive mergers that sometimes forced disparate campuses together, while others have seen some change. The below graphs show how black student enrolments at various institutions have changed little from 2000 - 2006.

However the beleaguered UFS has in fact seen the most change in enrolment of black students.
Enrolment of black students '00 - '06

Universities in the Eastern And Western Cape didn’t fare much better.

Black students '00 - '06 E and W Cape

Click on the below links to get a closer look at the transformation facts on each university. Who runs their SRCs, recent racial clashes and transformation policies: we got the latest figures from the universities.

University of Pretoria (UP)

The University of Pretoria is the largest residential university in South Africa. It has more than 50 000 full-time and part-time students.

Total students: 61 293
Black: 56.1%
White: 39.2%
Indian: 3.03%
Coloured: 1.6%

International students: 6.9%
Students from other African countries (included above): 3.9%

Residence race policy:
“At least 40% of the cohort in formal UP residences should be black and at least 40% white… Residence management teams must ensure that the allocation of rooms ensures integration in the residence.”

Transformation policies:
The university established an “Institutional core committee for transformation” in August 2009.

After nearly a decade of the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) dominating UP’s SRC, the university’s management moved to stop the race and language-based campaigns by stopping party-based elections in 2006. “Candidates may participate in the election in their individual capacity and not under the banner of a political party / organisation. The system is currently again under discussion.”

Staff total: 2979
White: 68.3%
Black: 25.6%
Indian: 4.1%
Coloured: 2%

Official Languages: Afrikaans and English
‘The University adopts the principle that a language policy may not cause any persons to be denied reasonable access to higher education”.

Race clashes?
There are occasional reports of clashes between black and Afrikaans student groups, particularly pertaining to the fraught issue of SRC elections. The university has an internal disciplinary system to deal with these.


North West University (NWU)

North West University was formed in 2004 when the historically black University of North-West merged with historically white Potchefstroom University.

But the university is still racially divided across the two amalgamated campus. 50% of the Potchefstroom campus was black in 2008, up from about 47% in 2003. Meanwhile 91% of the smaller Mafikeng campus (8090 students in total) was black in 2008 down from 98% in 2003.

Total students: 47 008
Black: 60%
White: 36%
Coloured: 3%
Asian: 1%

International students: 9%
Students from other African countries (included above): 1.07%

Residence policy:
Placements in residences are based on merit. As a matter of principle, all the NWU residences are non-racial. The existence of exclusive white or black residences is not allowed. 

Transformation policies:
The university worked is guided by its Institutional Plan (IP), put together to help negotiate the tricky process of merging a historically black and white institution, with transformation as its key theme. ‘A Human Rights Committee for the NWU has been established with an independent chairperson, advocate Solly Sithole with its focus on the maintenance and promotion of the constitutional values of human dignity, equality and freedom.”

A policy is maintained that students stand as an individual to be selected on the SRC, and do not contest it as a political party.

Staff total: 2979
White     69%
African     28%
Asian     0.4%
Coloured   2.6%

Official Languages: Afrikaans and English
The University has adopted a trilingual official language policy in English, Afrikaans and Setswana and utilises Sesotho as a working language.

While the majority undergraduate lectures on the Potchefstroom Campus are presented in Afrikaans, simultaneous interpreting services into English are provided in a substantial number of teaching programmes for students who would like to follow the lectures by means of English. The service has recently been expanded to also include interpreting services into Afrikaans and Setswana. 

On the Mafikeng Campus all lectures are in English, but interpreting services into Setswana have been identified as a priority in some subjects. The Vaal Triangle Campus is using Afrikaans and English within parallel, dual and interpreting modes of language delivery. As with Mafikeng, interpreting services into Sesotho within the B.Ed. Foundation Phase teaching programme has been identified as a priority for 2010.

The University also offers a language ombud function where language complaints could be lodged in an anonymous way.

Race clashes?
A racist group on the social networking site Facebook briefly appeared in 2008 involving students from the Potchefstroom campus. The group was called “ek laaik nie ‘n houtkop nie, sou what” (I do not like a ‘houtkop’, so what?) and showed a photograph of a young white man holding a gun while kneeling over the body of a young black boy. University authorities had the group closed down and responsible students disciplined. According to the university there have been no other reported racist incidents.


University of Johannesburg (UJ)

UJ was formed on 1 January 2005 by a merger between the Technikon Witwatersrand (TWR) and the Rand Afrikaans University (RAU). Prior to the merger, the Daveyton and Soweto campuses of the former Vista University had been incorporated into RAU. The new institution is the largest contact university in South Africa, with nine faculties spread over five different campuses.

Total students: 47 233
Black: 72.7%
White: 19.3%
Asian: 4.9%
Coloured: 3.1%

International students: 4%
Students from other African countries (included above): 3.8%

Residence policy:

Transformation policies:
The university has had to deal with a culture of hostility between different race groups. After a spate of incidents in 2008 university management said it wouldembark on a journey to create ‘a new value system and cultural ethos in our institution, as part of a broader transformation programme”.


*Staff total: 3273
White: 48%
Black: 40%
Asian: 5%
Coloured: 6%

Official Languages:
The Language Policy adopted in 2005 introduced Sesotho sa Leboa, English, Afrikaans and IsiZulu as the institution’s official languages. However, only English and Afrikaans are used as medium of instruction (Academic.) The four officials UJ’s languages and its associative cultures are the cornerstone of creating a unique and distinct UJ community. It helped transform the four campuses and it is also in compliance with the constitution, which puts emphasis on multilingualism and multiculturalism. At this moment it is a progressive step where memos, announcements and communications are communicated in the four languages.

Race clashes?
In April 2008 the university introduced measures to deal with a spate of “racially motivated incidents” on the UJ’s Kingsway campus.

These incidents were said to include the beating up of black students by white students in the Egoli bar at Oppierief residence, harassment of black students walking home at night, and verbal and physical abuse of senior black Sasco members.


Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU)

NMMU formed in January 2005 through the merger of the University of Port Elizabeth, the Port Elizabeth Technikon and the Port Elizabeth campus of Vista University.

Number of total students: 23 452
African: 58.78%
White: 25.05%
Coloured: 14.04%
Asian: 2.1%
Unknown: 0.6%

International students: 8%
Students from other African countries (included above): 6.5%

Residence policy:
Placements in residences are based on merit. As a matter of principle, all the NWU residences are non-racial. The existence of exclusive white or black residences is not allowed. 

Transformation policies:
The university is implementing its Equity Policy and Plan, a ‘proactive” transformation plan committed to meeting more than the legal requirements and subject to continual monitoring and assessment of success.


Staff total: 4063
White: 69%
Black: 28%
Asian: 0.4%
Coloured: 2.6%

Official Languages:
The official languages of the NMMU is English, Afrikaans and Xhosa, reflected in its corporate image. But the de facto language in class rooms and meetings is English.

“Where an entire class shares Afrikaans or Xhosa as first language, teaching and assessment may be conducted in that language, subject to the ability of the lecturer.”

Race clashes?


University of the Free State (UFS)

Total number of students:

International students:
Students from other African countries (included above):

Residence policy:

Transformation policy:

In 2009 UFS students elected their first black SRC president: Moses Masitha. The rest of the SRC is dominated by ANC-aligned student body SASCO and the


Official language:

Race clashes?


University of the Western Cape (UWC)

Established by the apartheid government in 1959 as a constituent college of the University of South Africa for people classified as “coloured”, UWC has a long history of activism and fighting for more access for disadvantaged groups.

Total number of students: 15 074
Coloured: 46.5%
Black: 38.4%
Indian: 7.5%
White: 4.3%
Other: 4.3%

International students: 9%
Students from other African countries (included above): 7.2%

Residence policy:
All residences are racially integrated.

Transformation policy:
No new policies are being developed around transformation.

Sasco, aligned to the ANC, currently controls the SRC. Sasco and PASMA have dominated the SRC in the past.

University executive:
3 coloured, 2 white, 1 black, 1 Indian

Official language: English

Race clashes?
No incidence of racially motivated violence or intimidation have been reported in recent years, according to the university.


Stellenbosch University

One of South Africa’s oldest universities, SU is also one of the few that didn’t have to go through a merger processwith a historically disadvantaged institution. Traditionally an Afrikaans university, the main transformation issue has been that of language at the university.

Total number of students: 26243
White: 67.6%
Coloured: 16.4%
Black: 13.9%
Indian: 1.9%

International students: 9.2%
Students from other African countries (included above): 6.4%

Transformation policy:
Stellenbosch University is committed to admitting students with academic potential before considering other circumstances such as race.

The SRC is not structured along political party lines.

Staff total: 2516
White: 61,4%.
Coloured: 33.6%
Black: 4%
Indian: 0.7%

Official language: Afrikaans
The University’s commitment to Afrikaans as an academic language does not exclude the use of various languages at the University.

Race clashes?
A few cases with racial overtones have been reported to the university authorities over the last two years. All of them have been investigated and where necessary appropriate steps have been taken, according to the university.


University of Cape Town (UCT)

UCT is South Africa’s oldest university and one of Africa’s leading teaching and research institutions. While a formerly advantaged institution it was opposed to apartheid, admitting its first black students in 1920. It did not merge with any other institutions.

Total number of students: 22231
White: 38.6%
Black: 19.2%
Coloured: 14.4%
Indian: 6.7%

International students: 19.1%
Students from other African countries (included above): 13%

Residence policy:

Transformation policy:
UCT is implementing an action guide on transformation looking at issues such as staff diversity, student equity and access, the curriculum, leadership and governance, and attitudes and behaviour.

UCT’s SRC has been dominated by the Progressive Youth Alliance, (Sasco, YCL) for the last decade. In 2009 the SRC was led by the Democratic Alliance Students’ Organisation (DASO).

Staff total: 768
White: 54.1%
Indian: 7.9%
Black: 4.5%
Coloured: 4.5%
International: 5.2%

Official language: English

Race clashes?
No racial incidents have been reported at the university, according to management.

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay is the editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian. She grew up in Laudium, Pretoria, learned her trade at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, spent a spell in Cape Town as an online journalist, and now loves living in Jozi. Her interests are broad but include a focus on politics and multi-platform storytelling.
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