Entitlement equation that stops transformation adding up – Business Day, 20 April 2015

Apr 21, 2015
As the 21st anniversary of SA’s first all-race election approaches on April 27, the country "still boils with white racism".

AS THE 21st anniversary of SA’s first all-race election approaches on April 27, the country "still boils with white racism".

Or so some newspaper columnists, as well as academics styling themselves "public intellectuals", would have us believe.

The latest evidence of this "boiling racism" is the failure of the University of Cape Town (UCT) to "transform", causing all the outrage against a statue that has sat harmlessly on the campus for decades.

How many of UCT’s 26,000 students suddenly found the sight of Cecil Rhodes too painful to bear is not clear.

One Indian student wrote that she had experienced "years of unity and kumbaya" during her five years on the campus and that there was no institutional racism there. She also said the university found it difficult to keep young, bright, black graduates on the staff, because they were lured away by companies to fulfil affirmative action requirements.

More than a decade ago, a vice-chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand predicted that the private sector’s affirmative action needs would denude the universities of black academics.

Some black academics who have been at UCT for years claim that their own lack of preferment is the result of racism on the part of the university.

However, perusal of some of these academics’ writings suggests that their lack of preferment may relate to ability rather than race. So keen has the university been to "transform", in fact, that its chancellor, the chairman of its council and the president of its convocation are black, as are its two immediate past vice-chancellors.

The risk UCT faces is that the race card in the guise of "transformation" will be relentlessly played to further advance the agenda of racial nationalism. This ideology has already damaged the University of KwaZulu-Natal. It has also helped to undermine one state institution after another, Eskom being only one example.

Party control of all centres of power to reverse the effects of colonialism as epitomised by Rhodes is one of the overriding policy objectives of the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party. But if Rhodes symbolises colonialism, Eskom symbolises transformation.

Though some of its officials criticised vandalism of the Rhodes and other statues, the ANC declared its "unequivocal" support for students’ demands for transformation at universities across the country.

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande complained that South African professors were too old and too white. Retirements and the transformation policy will in due course denude universities of the offending whites. However, the private sector is now under threat of heavy fines for failing to meet affirmative action targets. It is therefore in competition with universities for the best black brains.

So it is not clear where all the transformed universities are going to get all the black professors to train the country’s future manpower.

SA has 25 universities. Transformation focuses on bringing previously white ones under black control. It neglects the challenge of turning black universities into rival centres of academic prowess, with an African as opposed to the supposedly alien European ethos.

The entire transformation project exhibits the same weakness. In sport it means quotas for white teams, not fostering black sport at school. In economic terms, it means redistribution of white wealth rather than the creation of new black wealth. In land reform it entails taking over white farms, not promoting black agriculture.

In business, it means that white companies must "transform" by taking in black empowerment partners or putting blacks on boards to meet racial targets.

This is perpetuating the culture of entitlement that is helping to cripple a country in desperate need of creativity and enterprise.

• Kane-Berman is a consultant with the South African Institute of Race Relations.

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