Ramphele takes up the UCT challenge

Her brief is both explicit and daunting: translate the University of Cape Town’s stated commitment to non-racialism and non-sexism into reality.

For Dr Mamphela Ramphele, this means “more black faces” in UCT’s top posts, more women in decision­ making positions at every level – in short the overhaul of an institution founded by white men specifically for white men into one where “equal opportunity” actually means what it says.

She hauls out a list of statistics: ”We have an unfortunate situation where only three percent of UCT’s profes­sors are women, while only 12 percent of associate professors are women.

“If you look at UCT’s administration, I am the first black and also the first woman to be appointed a deputy vice­ chancellor.”

Her appointment itself demonstrates UCT’s commitment to cnange: ”They know I won’t just sit and twiddle my fingers. I think they really have decided to take the plunge.”

So has she. For two years she fended off the appointment. ”I guess I changed my mind because I saw, or was convinced by those who talked me round, that given the momentous changes in the country there was now a window of opportunity – a chance to make a significant impact if one intervened now. ”It’s a lot easier now for institutions to think about radical change. It’s not as if we’re doing something here that no­ one else is thinking of doing – there’s a tide which can help even the UCT ship to rise.”

She hopes her appointment will convey a message to black students: “I hope my being here will say to them, I am here to support their endeavours, but I am also there to make demands on them to deliver.”

She abhors what she calls the ”victim image. It’s a case of, we’re victims of apartheid, so we’re entitled to be ill-­disciplined, to do sloppy work, to stay away from class when we feel like it. “We have to break with the past. We must change attitudes and people beyond the notion that a 50 percent pass is OK. It’s a defence mechanism to deal with possible failure. Excellence has been devalued because it’s unattainable for a lot of black students. “We need a programme of action that will help black students overcome the many obstacles they face when they come to a predominantly white institution like UCT.”

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail

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