Don’t blame the girls, Blame the University

Like all African South Africans, who saw the now infamous “racially” inspired picture of 2 Tuks students dressed as domestic workers with black painted faces. I too, was filled with anger and disappointment at another racist incident at our universities. I too, called from the comfort of twitter and Facebook for their heads (no pun intended) to spin by receiving the harshest punishment possible.

When all was said, and when soberness prevails, there are questions to ask such as: How could this be found funny, and why did it happen at the University of Pretoria?

In the last 3 years, this is the 5th incident at our institutions of higher learning that have sparked national discourse about race relations. Universities by implication are supposed to be spaces of human development; of challenging norms; of creating new knowledge and most important, spaces that groom future leaders and custodians of our nations’ ambitions.

Universities by design represent all that is best of a country and its people. Do these 2 racially intolerance girls represent all that is best about white South Africans?

In South Africa more so, universities have an important role to play, with all of the expectations above, our universities are expected to facilitate the creation of spaces within themselves to be non-racial; nonsexist and foster a culture of racial tolerance and academic excellence.

Mindful of our disjointed past, South African universities are expected to be non-apologetic in their approach to developing and grooming future leaders, which are better at dealing with racial intolerance than their predecessors.

The universities of Pretoria; Free State and even Stellenbosch, are regarded as former Afrikaans centric institution, because, in the last regime, these institutions were incubators of Afrikaner pride. Does this mean that the staff of these institutions supported Apartheid?( that’s for another day).

With this backdrop , in a new South Africa that is theoretically non-racial, more is expected from these institution, to limit the impact of their racially intolerant past  and more than anything it is expected that these institutions are to be more mindful of white based racial intolerance due to their pasts.

I won’t lie, the fact that this incident like many others has happened in former Afrikaans universities, is part of the source of the anger, because it implies that these institutions, inclusive with their staff; students  and parent bodies are in fact still practising forms of racism. I doubt the national response would have been the same if this happened at Fort Hare or even Limpopo universities.

The leadership of these Universities must be mindful that more is expected from them. Theirs is a responsibility greater than most, to ensure that their spaces are an environment for white racists to be re-educated and be integrated into our broader national ethos of non-racialism.  

Some of the student in former Afrikaner universities have never interacted with progressive black intellectuals and have almost been isolated on their farms, interacting with the African Black farm labourers, that are uneducated and peasantry in nature.

With this truth, the universities that these student attend (they still prefer Afrikaans centric universities) must endeavour to their utmost best, more than other universities, to re-educate and de- indoctrinate these students.

If these universities are not sensitive to the historic legacy that is present in their institutions and fail to put together programmes that are focused on the  re-integration of these student, they would have failed our joint nation building project.

Citing charges of putting the institution into disrepute is a cop-out for the University of Pretoria leadership. The University of Pretoria must not punish these girls, because honestly, I think they (girls) do not know what wrong they committed. Kicking them out of residence, doesn't re-educate them (thinking that making fun of black people is funny), but further isolates and discriminate them.

To be clear, I do not endorse the insensitivity of these girls, but I don’t think they are racist either. In as much I believe that there is more to this picture that paint and padding, I expect the University of Pretoria, to go through an introspective process to review how and WHY this happened at their institution.

This is not about reputation, it’s about how the university failed in creating an environment to sensitize and re-educate their students about race dynamics in SA.

I expect more from the University of Pretoria; it has received a fail mark from me, when I come to dealing to issues of nation building.