“All societies therefore necessarily bear the imprint, the birth-marks of their own past. Whether to a greater or lesser extent must depend on a whole concatenation of factors, both internal and external to each particular society” — Thabo Mbeki
Post the 1994 democratic breakthrough, the ANC led democratic government inherited a grossly racialized, patriarchal, liberal and unequal education “system”. The liberation movement’s first focus in the establishment of the higher education sector and drafting of the constitution had to be mainly addressing these historical injustices in the sector and society in general.
Over the past 22 years there have been a lot of transformation orientated initiatives, “these have included the definition of the purposes and goals of higher education; extensive policy research; policy formulation, adoption, and implementation in the areas of governance, funding, academic structure and programmes, and quality assurance; the enactment of new laws and regulations; and major restructuring and reconfiguration of the institutional landscape and of institutions (Saleem Badat, 2007:5).
The higher education in South African still the imprint, the birthmarks of its past. The birthmark of the worst form of post-schooling that was imposed by the British capitalism and colonial expansion. The kind of system that brought with it a new form of learning that was premised on the separation of education for economic production and education for social and political survival. The historic roots of this act are tied with the development of industry and specialization of work which increased the need for skilled workers who had to be trained specifically for the line of work they were required only to perform, hence today we have engineers, commercial students etc.
Worth noting is the relative quantitative growth in access to higher education by the black working-class women, though this has not translated to much qualitative graduates production. These, of course, are attributes of the capitalist economic base and the legacy of the colonial and racial historical injustices. A burden of blackness and womanhood!
Do we celebrate the centenary birth of our liberation struggle, mama Albertina Nontsikelelo Sisulu, knowing that in many institutions enrolments in professional degrees are still preserved for whites and males, patriarchal patterns in enrolments are still evident, with women enrolling mostly for social sciences, education and nursing? Professors are old white reactionary males, black women academics are marginalized and shoved out of the system. Historically black/disadvantaged institutions are still underfunded, lack resources and infrastructure and are unattractive. Capital affords less value to qualifications from these institutions thereby making their graduates unemployable and uncompetitive. Councils of historically white institutions are still dominated by whites. Surely the women who found the Bantu Women’s League 100 years ago are looking upon us with shame for having not transformed this sector from ivory towers to people’s education for peoples power.
The victories we have registered post the democratic breakthrough aimed at accelerating access and producing quality black female graduates from poor backgrounds, in particular, cannot be overlooked. Whereas women students made up 43% (202 000 out of 473 000) of enrolments in 1993, by 2005 they constituted 54% (402 267 out of 737 472) of the student body (CHE, 2004; DoE, 2006). There has also been a relative improvement in the executive management of some institutions as far as gender equity question is concerned. The recent being the close contestation of two female academics for the position of Vice-Chancellor at the University of Cape Town. The improvements in access and success we look forward to being on the faculty of Health Sciences, Law, Engineering and Agricultural Sciences. Every initiative aimed at improving black women postgraduate throughput must be supported by all progressives in the sector, and both public and private sector must be forced to fund these! The big question we are left with whilst we celebrate the victories of accelerated access by the black women students from poor backgrounds is where have male counterparts gone to?
The demand to increase young black female academic stuff, gender equity across all faculties, increased representation in University councils and patriotic black female Vice Chancellors is a call to revolution. This revolution is necessary, as Marx and Engels once said: “not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.” I think these interventions will go a long way into transforming higher education from ivory towers to people’s education for people’s power.
The student movement is therefore charged with the responsibility of building a revolutionary conscious intellectual capital capable of addressing challenges of higher education relating to gender, class and racial disparities as a point of departure. A lot more complex dialogue around this question must be visited with renewed energy and vigour!
Written by: Ms Nokuthaba Ndlovu (MaGatsheni)
Deputy President of SASCO