Stellenbosch University
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Transformation Indaba addresses higher education issues
Author: Corporate Communication/Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Rozanne Engel]
Published: 21/10/2019


With the recent anti-gender-based violence (anti-GBV) protests around the country, the hashtag #StelliesWhereAreYou trended across various social media platforms.

As a result, this year's Transformation Indaba at Stellenbosch University (SU) aimed to help 'Stellies' be more visible by giving leadership and practitioners in various portfolios the opportunity to share the work they are doing to help the University successfully achieve its transformation agenda.

The Indaba was hosted and facilitated by Dr Leslie van Rooi, Senior Director: Transformation and Social Impact, and Dr Claire Kelly, Acting Head of Transformation at SU's Transformation Office, on Thursday, 17 October 2019 at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS).

Launched in 2017, this year's annual Transformation Indaba aimed to also address the many challenges, issues and opportunities for change at higher education institutions.

In his welcoming address at the Indaba, Prof Nico Koopman, Vice-Rector: Social Impact, Transformation and Personnel, said that SU was committed to transformation by implementing an extensive transformation plan to help the institution on its journey ahead.

“It is important for us to make visible what has been placed in the transformation plan. We are committed to dignity, to the healing of wounds, to freedom and to equality. There is no visible transformation without visible justice, especially justice to the most marginalised on campus and in broader society," Koopman said.

Prof Loretta Feris, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Transformation and Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Cape Town, delivered the keynote address at the Indaba, and titled it Transformation in higher education in South Africa: Current victories, opportunities and challenges.

An alumnus of SU, Feris lauded SU for how far the institution has come in its transformation journey, but said more work still needed to be done to help give this generation and future ones a full transformative experience.

“There are still manifestations of racial hate happening in our society. However, when you look at South Africa at first glance and you compare the post-apartheid society with a pre-apartheid society, it looks like we've come a long way, and in some respects I would say we have and we need to acknowledge that.

“Even when I come to Stellenbosch, I can very profoundly see the difference between the Stellenbosch when I was a student and the Stellenbosch of the now. It is interesting that those of us who survived apartheid, whether mentally or physically, seem to have a higher tolerance level for the kind of benevolent integration of the current South African society, because we know it is so much better than what we endured in the past," said Feris.

However, Feris believes that many younger black students may still experience the same discriminatory issues of the past, because they have less tolerance for racism, inequality and discrimination than older generations who lived under an apartheid regime. She believes this is especially true when this younger generation was told that they were 'born free', but still experience inequality and racism in the country.

“There is an expectation that students coming into university now will fit in better and that they will belong. Here you are a 'born free' in a country where ostensibly we have addressed the wrongs of the past but yet you come into an institution of higher learning and you feel the real sense of being othered and of not belonging. That is a wicked problem for us as all at universities and if we don't grapple with this now, it will come up time and time again in the future," said Feris.

In preparation for the Indaba, the Transformation Office administered a campus-wide survey in the last week of September to ascertain what students and staff wanted to be discussed at the event.

The results of the survey concluded that input be given on these various responsibility areas and issues:

  • Input on transformation, comprising transformation infrastructure, transformation indicators, visual redress and social impact
  • Input on student affairs, including discrimination and harassment, GBV, disability, mental health, food security and residence culture
  • Input on research, including the transformation and decolonisation of research and research ethics
  • Input on teaching and learning, including curriculum renewal and decolonisation, and lecturer capacity development
  • Input on human resources, including employment equity and staff wellness

Those who gave input from these responsibility areas had an uninterrupted opportunity to present a brief overview of their work as it pertained to the themes and questions raised by the survey. It also provided participants of the Indaba an indication of where to direct what questions during the breakaway discussions.

Out of the breakaway sessions, there was a record of the conversations, which will be collated into an Indaba report for circulation later in November of this year.