Challenging student traditions

Incoming North-West University vice-chancellor Professor Dan Kgwadi. (Cornell Tukiri)

Incoming North-West University vice-chancellor Professor Dan Kgwadi. (Cornell Tukiri)

The North West University (NWU) was criticised recently after Beeld newspaper reported that some students on its Potchefstroom campus had used the Nazi “Sieg Heil” salute during an initiation ceremony.

Professor Dan Kgwadi's six-year term was initially meant to begin in June, but was brought forward after outgoing vice-chancellor Dr Theuns Eloff stepped down to allow his successor to tackle the matter from the outset.

Apart from the controversy, Kgwadi is also faced with the challenge of making the university’s three campuses more demographically representative. In 2011, Eloff was quoted on the university’s website as saying that the NWU council had set diversity targets of 90% black and 10% white for Mafikeng, 75% black and 25% white for the Vaal Triangle Campus and 30% black and 70% white for Potchefstroom.

But Kgwadi — who has been the rector of the NWU’s Mafikeng’s campus since 2005 — is ready to take on these challenges. “Ten years into a merger, the NWU is still working hard on several issues,” he acknowledges. Our Potch campus is predominantly white and Afrikaner to be more precise while our Mafikeng campus is more African. It is the primary duty of council to guide the transformation of the university and of management to execute such.

“No university in the world can afford to become an ethnic or racial enclave. We cannot afford it for any of our campuses too. A diverse university environment forms an important part of the learning process. We also live in a global society where products of homogenous societies will adjust with difficulty. Universities must produce national and global citizens.”

It was against this background that council had set targets to diversify student demographics of the NWU campuses, he adds. “These targets form part of the institutional plan. Our current campus compositions are to a greater extent an influence from the past. Diversity and social integration is part of my mandate and I will execute it responsibly and with conviction.”

He says the university is awaiting the report of a committee set up by council to investigate initiation practices, which will go to the minister of higher education. “It will make a significant change and add more value to our orientation programmes.

“A directive from the minister and council as well as my zero tolerance for student activities that are contra-human rights sets a platform for our way forward,” he admits. He adds that he intends adopting a diplomatic, but firm approach in dealing with such matters.

“Students bring with them all kinds of new trends and ways of doing things and a lot of their behaviour is steeped in student traditions. These traditions are very difficult to change or to stop and if you go about doing it wrongly, the students go underground and continue with it anyway,” he explains.

“My approach would be to engage at different levels and to encourage change rather than to enforce or police it. I strongly believe in a change of mind set that leads to a sustainable institutional culture.” “Despite my conviction to encourage change, I will not hesitate to act decisively if I pick up problem areas or actions.

“I would like to encourage debates among students on variety of topics even those deemed controversial to instil a culture of tolerance for differing opinions, because our students are going to be the leaders of tomorrow, and I would like to give them that opportunity in the relative safety of a university platform.”

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