The new BEE: Black women academic empowerment
WITS University has a shortage of black women academics despite efforts of transformation by the National Research Foundation (NRF).
According to statistics released by the Academic Information and Systems Unit black female academics make up one third out of a total of 322 academic staff at the university, with seven out of 33 of its temporary staff being black women.
“As black women we do not necessarily have the support of people who have walked the journey and can tell us how to fight or hold our hand as we walk the journey,” said Mamokgethi Phakeng professor of Mathematics Education at the University of South Africa and the president of Wits Convocation.
Phakeng is the first black African female recipient of a PhD in Mathematics Education and said part of the transformation process of any university is having black women academics, suggesting they offer a different voice to academia
“Our experience of oppression is different from that of black men and of white women and so not having more of us in academia means that one important voice is missing,” Phakeng said.
She suggests there is difficulty associated with maintaining traditional gender roles when pursuing an academic career as “academia can be unsympathetic to women.”
According to Dean of Students Dr Pamela Dube there is a dire shortage of female academics, especially people with qualifications in the PhD level.
“We have a less than a 1% research output in the country,” said Dube. She added there was a lack of participation of female researchers in the PhD level. “We have a huge shortage and we need more.”
Other projects to help women academics include The Project Developing Young Research Leadership where undergraduate students observe and participate in research projects.
Pursuing a PhD can take up to seven or eight years to finish, but associate professor of the School of Human and Community Development Dr Mzikazi Nduna confirms that with the intervention of such projects, it can take even less time to complete.
Nduna, who is the only black African female professor in her department out of 12 professors, said it takes a lot of commitment to become an academic and that “many young people are just not willing to commit.”
Phakeng maintains, however, that despite the challenges faced when pursuing an academic career “we need a narrative of excellence, one that says we should all work towards being excellent irrespective of our background.”