/ 21 August 2014

Blade: We must reject racial divisions on campuses

Blade Nzimande has urged universities to promote social cohesion on campuses in the wake of recent racist incidents
Blade Nzimande has urged universities to promote social cohesion on campuses in the wake of recent racist incidents

Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande has challenged universities and colleges to stimulate debate over their role in enforcing social cohesion on campuses. 

“Well some [institutions] are not keen, to be quite honest, to have this debate even today,” Nzimande told journalists on Thursday.

Nzimande spoke at a media briefing at which he launched his department’s draft policy on social inclusion at institutions of higher education.

Officially released for public comment, the draft policy seeks to pave the way for introduction of guidelines institutions would be required to follow. Nzimande said the policy would tackle racism, exclusion based on gender, disability, HIV status, and citizenship, amongst other forms of unfair discrimination.

“It’s important that we re-open this dialogue about how our institutions should be more inclusive,” Nzimande said.

“We’re hoping [the draft] will generate quite a lot of discussions.”

He said recent racial incidences at universities were evidence that institutions were still lagging behind in promoting social cohesion.

The so-called black face scandal at the University of Pretoria caused an outcry recently.

“We’re calling for social mobilisation against [racial cases]. We should reject them in the same way we rejected apartheid, so that it’s not government alone that is dealing with this challenge.”

Reservation of university residences for students of a certain race was one of the drivers of racial divisions on campuses, he said.  “Of course, ideally we’d like to see mixed residences in all respects. You know, some universities still maintain some residences for white students.”

The draft policy says institutions “must promote culturally and racially mixed residences. The hostel staff in public colleges and universities must reflect the demographics of the country”.

It calls for institutions to “submit annual reports with a category that reflects the demographics of their student residences”.

“There should be compelling reasons to the department for the maintenance of ethnically or racially exclusive student residences.”

In addition, the draft says institutions of higher learning and the department “must collaborate in ensuring that different people, including gays, lesbians and trans-gender groups, are able to express their identities without fear”.

Nzimande added that the policy “calls for the strengthening of disability units in all our institutions, the development of institutional disability policies, functional transformation offices with clear mandates, programmes, monitoring and reporting systems”.

“Social inclusion deals with substantive equality. It takes the view that it is democratic citizenship that is at risk when a society fails to develop the talents and capabilities of all its members. This means there should be more positive action in favour of disadvantaged groups in society,” the draft said.

Asked if he didn’t expect universities to reject the policy on basis it encroaches on their autonomy by telling them what to do, Nzimande said: “Remember, these are public institutions [and] so they have to account”.

“You can’t have institutions that … use autonomy to say you can’t promote what this democracy is about.

“We must not allow institutions be a refuge for political scoundrels,” he said. “That will take us back”.