A group of black academics at Wits University are mentoring mostly young, black women to improve the numbers of black female academics in South Africa.
Tshepo Mothiba is a programme project officer at the Wits Transformation Office. He spoke to Wits Vuvuzela about the challenge of having few Black South African academics. Only 14% of Wits’s academic staff are black South Africans.
Why are there so few black academics at Wits?
I do not think academic careers are attractive. Universities cannot afford to compete with a private sector which offers people better salaries. Some people have been discriminated against because of their gender and race, even students. So, as soon as they finish their degree all they want, is to leave Wits. We have had cases of people coming to us saying they were not promoted because they are black. Some people do not feel they fit in to the culture of the institution.
Do you think Wits promotes black African academics?
Over the years, Wits has put in place measures aimed at providing support to develop academics.However, the transformation process has been very slow. Wits has always portrayed itself as non-racial but there are challenges with employment equity. The university says it cannot find suitable-qualified academics, as they cannot compete with private sector.
Who should be blamed for this?
The apartheid system. Even today, white people still have privilege. In job interviews, blacks compete with people who are being interviewed in their [first] language, so they stand a better chance of getting a job. The legacy of discrimination is still felt even today.
What should the government’s role be?
Universities are independent institutions. They are the ones who should tell government what to do. Still, government should use its available resources and influence to drive change in all sectors including higher education. It is important for government to develop performance indicators and to ensure continuous monitoring in this regard.
What is the role of the transformation office?
We are playing the supporting and advisory role. We ensure transformation is put on the agenda of relevant structures across the university. But, it is the people in the position of power who have to bring change. The university schools have a responsibility to present reasonable targets in terms of the Actively Employed People statistics.