By Robyn Kirk and Lameez Omarjee
Race is still an issue in South Africa, particularly in higher education. This conversation emerged when the Wits Transformation Office held a roundtable discussion on Wednesday afternoon to discuss whether the issue of race mattered 20 years into democracy.
The first speaker, Prince Mashele of the Centre for Politics and Research, discussed how race is an integral part of the history of South Africa, and that one could not have a political discussion about South Africa without discussing race. He argued that 20 years was too short a time for the issue to no longer matter.
“South Africa has not changed… The wealth in South Africa is disproportionately owned by whites.” Black labour was exploited by mining and the role of the black man, providing labour for white people, has not changed over 20 years said Mashele. He further suggested that “The only way to change the role of a black person is through education”.
Athi-Nangamso Nkopo, a Master’s student in Political Science and founder of the Feminist Forum, pointed out that black women fell through the cracks in discussions about transformation. When people talked about “gender” they thought of white women, and “race” implied black men, making it seem as if black women were invisible, according to Nkopo.
White students do not protest because they do not have to.
Although Wits has improved in the racial representation of students enrolled, not enough systems are in place to ensure non-white students succeed and graduate, she said. “In higher education, not enough is being done for women to advance,” she said. The improvements on campus are not an accurate representation of the demographics of the country, according to Nkopo.
Michlene Mongae, the Secretary General of the SRC, was the final speaker before comments and questions were voiced by the crowd. She pointed out that within the space of Wits University different racial groups tolerated one another, however this was not the case within private spaces such as at home or with friends. She also indicated that actively trying to look beyond race clearly shows race still matters.
Mongae argued that in the past, white students were the most politically active on campus and over 20 years, black students have become the more politically dominating students on campus. “White students do not protest because they do not have to,” responded Mashele. The comment sparked interest from the audience, where one audience member noted that the fact that there were few white students at a discussion about race, “Shows who really cares about race.”
According to The Wits Transformation Office, Wits University has transformed in terms of both race and gender over the last 20 years.
This article was featured in the Wits Vuvuzela