Racism still rife at many varsities

ONLY seven of South Africa's 23 higher education institutions are following Blade Nzimande's instructions to stamp out racism on their campuses, Parliament heard yesterday.

ONLY seven of South Africa's 23 higher education institutions are following Blade Nzimande's instructions to stamp out racism on their campuses, Parliament heard yesterday.

In June last year Higher Education Minister Nzimande tasked Higher Education South Africa (Hesa) - a body made up of vice-chancellors of universities - with taking action against racism and discrimination at universities.

This came after a ministerial committee on transformation and the elimination of discrimination in public higher education institutions released a report in November 2008 that revealed racism was a persistent problem in all areas of campus life.

Seven months ago Nzimande gave universities a January 2010 deadline to report back on how they would implement the report's recommendations.

But to the fury of the portfolio committee it emerged yesterday that 16 of the 23 institutions had failed to meet the deadline - including the University of the Free State and Stellenbosch University, which have both been accused of stalling transformation in the past.

Hesa chairperson of transformation strategy Barney Pityana said more Blacks have had access to higher learning over the past 15 years.

Professor Gordon Zide, Hesa's transformation managers' forum chairperson, told the committee that "transformation is a journey" and more funding from the government was needed to make it happen.

But ANC MP Sbusiso Radebe lashed out, saying "is there need to debate transformation? It should be implemented. You should give us results. As the president said this is a year of action".

Portfolio committee chairperson Marius Fransman said disciplinary action should be taken against the institutions.

Citing an example of racism, he said that last year a black student who had top grades was initially refused placement at Stellenbosch University because she was English-speaking.

Stellenbosch University, about 30 kilometres from Cape Town, is supposed to be a dual English-Afrikaans medium university.

Fransman said the student was only accepted when the government followed up with the university.

But University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Max Price said the committee should visit the individual universities to see if they were transforming.

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