One-on-one with Mmusi Maimane: Transforming our education system
The M&G's Victoria John speaks to DA leader Mmusi Maimane about the state of the country's education system and what he would do differently.
Maimane has publicly stated his intention to throw open the doors of learning to young South Africans – regardless of race or financial status. In a June press release, he said a DA government would “guarantee free tertiary education for all qualifying students”.
“No one should be denied the opportunity to study further because he or she cannot afford it,” he stated.
But it is not just dire finances that have slammed the doors of education in hundreds of thousands of black students’ faces. Lack of transformation at universities and overt racism on campuses has created a space that makes it near impossible for black students to learn in.
- The M&G asked Maimane what he would do about transformation.
“… We must define what we mean by transformation because I think this word means different things to different people.”
He preferred to focus not just on the hard, cold numbers around demographic representation at universities, but on the support students needed that would inevitably result in those numbers changing.
“How are we making sure that … we identify black South Africans [and say to them]: ‘If you want to go the academic route, what support can we give you so ultimately we end up with black professors.'
“We must do more about dealing with the system than dealing with the numbers.”
He also questioned how African history was represented in the curriculum and physical structures at universities.
“How are we educating South Africans about South Africa? Why are we not adding enough of South African history into SA universities, whether [in terms of] statues … naming buildings …”
- But what if the supply is fine? There have been cases in which black professors applied for jobs but because of the institution’s inherent racism, that person was denied that opportunity and a white candidate was chosen instead. What would you do about it?
"Inherent racism cannot be permitted … If there is a legitimate case that proves that this institution is failing to diversify … how do we hold people to account? The long-term objective is for universities to be diverse … [we need to look] at what stops people getting into positions."
- But how would you hold those people to account?
"We set key targets … it’s a conversation about targets and policy. Half of this has to do with how you finance those institutions … the state must say, if [universities] are part of [our] redress mechanisms, it must be clear where [we] direct [our] finances … so that there’s diversification of the system. If an institution fails to diversify and says ‘We are going to [stay] the way we are’… that’s their own choice, but they must also understand that there will be consequences from a financing [point of view]."
- What do you think about the removal of the Cecil John Rhodes Statue at UCT?
"I think the university council had not done enough, broadly, to start off. The statue is but one thing… You can’t then assume that a statue is the only thing that must speak to transformation… how do we add to the history? I don’t like Cecil John Rhodes. I think he was an oppressor of the people of this country but we can’t simply erase [him]. I’ve got to be able to add to… history. There are black academics who we have failed to recognise. Why are we not building a diversity of statues so that society acknowledges, ‘Here’s one history, but there are other histories’.”
- The statue was symbolic of a much bigger problem but the actual statue was also a source of pain and anger. Would you have taken it down?
"I don’t support the view that says all across the country everybody who says: ‘Oh, I disagree with that statue, I must go remove it’. That must not become a culture… We must find each other through a negotiated settlement. I would’ve hoped that we would have got to a point where the university says: ‘Let’s get our council together, let us speak about it and if we can’t find each other, let’s take a vote’. The decision should have been brought there. I have a view that, as an individual, I don’t like the statue of Cecil John Rhodes so remove it… Me, that would’ve been my vote but at the same time… I might say… I went to the Voortrekker Monument … it represents a particular history but it’s a history of a particular people and I must be willing to say I accept that history. It is part of their history. Mine is to build a narrative of reconciliation, which is sometimes a much harder role than saying … let’s remove things."
- But people still demand deliberate action on specific things …
"It must be lead, it must be lead. The problem here is that it lacked leadership… Why were there no other statues [erected]? Why is that narrative… not being developed? It indicates the nature of leadership… we’ve got to be working harder to ensure institutions diversify. If we fail to do that we end up with people saying: ‘We disagree with that, we must remove it’. I’m saying our history’s complex. It has different narratives."