In 2016 the University of Cape Town agreed to establish an Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission as protest action intensified in higher education institutions across the country. It was tasked with, among other things, looking into institutional culture and practices, unjust discrimination, sexual violence and other issues the university community might raise or have been raising for years.
Its final 81-page report, released late last month, was scathing, illustrating a racist institution that does not take the struggle of black students seriously. Students erected a shack in one of the busiest parts of the campus to highlight accommodation issues. This protest — known as #Shackville — is one of many examples cited of the university ignoring students. The report also had strong words for the university for failing to listen to the plight of students and offering little support when it comes to mental health challenges. Students spoke of having been under immense academic pressure with little support, resulting in several deaths by suicide, and others struggling with suicidal thoughts.
The institutional racism isn’t reserved for students, according to the report. Black academics not only experience structural discrimination but also have to deal with subtle racism from their white colleagues.
The fact that the university embarked on this exercise can be somewhat lauded, and could be seen as an attempt by the university to address the issues facing its community.
But the report hasn’t highlighted anything new. These are issues that heads of departments have been briefed on. If there is one thing the report reveals it’s that executives have not been listening to their community. It would be disingenuous to act surprised when such facts are presented to them.