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Passion for transformation inspires Prof Fataar's leadership
Author: Corporate Communications and Marketing
Published: 10/05/2023

​​​​Walking into Prof Aslam Fataar's office, the first thing you notice about him is his energy. He speaks fast and animatedly, switching seamlessly between Afrikaans and English. It's clear he's a man with a mission as he talks passionately about his leading role in the transformation process at Stellenbosch University (SU).

Fataar's new office, from where he is coordinating the Committee for the Institutional Response to the Commission's Recommendations (CIRCoRe), is literally in the heart of the Stellenbosch campus in an office that's being refurbished in the lower level of the SU library. In response to the Khampepe Report that was released by the Khampepe Commission in November 2022, the SU Rectorate has established a structure that is aimed at developing implementable proposals based on the findings and recommendations in the Khampepe Report. This structure is called CIRCoRE.

Fataar started his academic career at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) where he completed a PhD in 1999 and rose to the position of Deputy Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Education at UWC before joining SU in 2009.

The former high school teacher's new responsibilities mean that he's “somewhat betwixt and between" roles as he is also a Research and Development Professor of Transformation at SU's Department of Education Policy Studies. At the Faculty of Education, he was a Head of the Department and Vice-Dean (Research), and he held a National Research Foundation (NRF) B Rating (2010-2017) and a Distinguished Professorship at SU between 2016 and 2020.

As an academic, Fataar is most proud of his contribution to teaching and postgraduate supervision. “I'm essentially a type of teacher-mentor to scholars, lecturers, and students. Research and publication are crucial, but my work and impact must land in the lives of my students and younger colleagues."

Initially, his involvement in transformation at SU was as “a voice on the outside of the University powers," but in 2015 the discourse about transformation at SU changed, Fataar explains, and an opening was created for “a more concerted voice from the inside". For the first time, SU developed a coherent institutional response to transformation and Fataar was asked to play a scholarly support role by developing research networks and processes for transformation.

“I worked with groups of people doing transformation work on campus, organised workshops and seminars and supervised theses on university transformation. Out of all these engagements came a better understanding of the methodology of transformation, moving from how to think about transformation to an understanding of how to implement transformation," Fataar says.

The process also led to several academic articles and publications, as well as a book he co-authored with Prof Elmarie Constandius, Evoking Transformation: Visual redress at Stellenbosch University. Costandius is an Associate Professor in Visual Arts and coordinates the MA in Visual Arts at SU. She and Fataar are both members of the University's Visual Redress Committee.

Having been immersed in the many dimensions of transformation for two years, Fataar was perfectly positioned to lead the University's response to the Khampepe Report. Released in November last year, the report was an investigation into allegations of racism at SU, authored by retired judge Sisi Khampepe.

Fataar was asked to develop a response to the Khampepe Report together with Drs. Leslie van Rooi and Zethu Mkhize and Prof Nico Koopman, which catapulted him into becoming the head of the CIRCoRe process. Over the past few months, Fataar and his team have worked very hard to finalise the terms of reference and consulted widely with stakeholder groups. “We had to lead the conversation, do the presentation, get the feedback, amend the draft, and set up the conceptual terms, as well as the structure of our response."

Fataar says there was broad consensus at SU that the recommendations of the Khampepe Report should be prioritised so that it did not end up being yet another report that gets shelved after the initial hype dies down.

He takes care to explain the CIRCoRe process is not a replacement of SU's existing transformational structures but will run parallel and give momentum to the transformation agenda to help enhance outcomes. “The Khampepe CIRCoRe office is a project being shaped by the SU Transformation Office and the Rectorate. We'll also frequently report to the Senate, Council and the Institutional Forum," he clarifies.

The Khampepe Report's findings and recommendations are divided into five workstreams and the CIRCoRe Coordinating Office holds the five together in an integrated manner.. Seventy-five University members have accepted an invitation by the Rectorate to serve on the respective workstreams.

Fataar's role is to coordinate the workstreams, working collaboratively on various dimensions of their responses, as well as steering dialogues and consultations with University stakeholders across campus and those external to the University.

The five workstreams are:

  • ​Student life/communities;
  • The possibilities of a compulsory core curriculum offering, intentionally teaching all our students the Constitutional values of human rights, nonracialism, dignity, and respect;
  • The alignment of SU's institutional culture with a democratic human rights ethos;
  • Race, human categorisation, and science; and
  • Simplifying and aligning University structures, policies and regulations with transformation goals.


“Each workstream will have to set up their mandate and establish what we're calling the 'inclusive community of practice' model. The work will firstly entail understanding the problem, which means research, information gathering and scenario setting. Then the different workstreams will start deliberating on how to fix the issues. Each group will have to come up with implementable recommendations to respond to the Khampepe Report's recommendations."

As an example, Fataar cites the recommendation to introduce a compulsory core curriculum to teach all students Constitutional values of human rights, non-racialism, dignity and respect.

“So, we'll be asking ourselves what does this mean in curriculum terms? It would potentially be easy to include it in the humanities, education, and law, but how do you do it in engineering and accounting? Fortunately, democratic citizenship-orientated curricula already exist in some faculties, so the challenge is to use that as a basis and get input and consensus on how to apply it appropriately for each academic field."

The process needs to be as inclusive as possible and needs to account for a wide divergence of opinion, Fataar stresses. “We have promised that we will take the conversations in the workstreams back to the constituencies, back to all the stakeholders. The trick is going to be to get everyone talking and to keep the communication channels open."

Fataar describes the process as a kind of “listening campaign". “It's also about creating a reciprocal culture of dialogue, respect and tolerance."

At the heart of the Khampepe Report is the Constitutional obligation, rooted in human rights, to steer the University to become truly inclusive. “We've got to give life to the South African Constitution in this process. I see my role as the producer of consensus, not a driver of hard rhetoric around transformation."

Fataar is the first to acknowledge that transformation is a complex process that will inevitably expose deep-seated feelings of pain and anger from some corners. “There are pockets of alienation on campus and different kinds of resentments that we will have to negotiate. It could be very challenging to dissect the exclusionary dynamics that still exist."

Although the CIRCoRe office is set to run for two years, Fataar has a long-term vision for the transformation process. “You cannot overturn an organisation as complex and monumental as SU in two years, but you can put strong building blocks in place that will take the University forward into the next decade."

He's never been one for taking high moral critical positions and sitting on the side lines, Fataar admits.

“I have a kind of activist approach to my life and work from which I derive energy and motivation to address problems and challenges systematically. I want to get my hands dirty and think strategically about transformation in the complex contexts of university life. This role at CIRCoRe allows me to achieve my ethical commitments by getting strategic and concrete in the 'real life' of institutional building."

Fataar's immediate family, all SU alumni, will no doubt also play a supportive role over the next two years. His wife, Dr Najwa Norodien-Fataar, acquired her PhD in 2016 under Prof Doria Daniels' supervision in SU's Department of Educational Psychology. Najwa is currently a senior lecturer and Head of Curriculum Development at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. His daughter, 'Imadah, is a graduate of the Faculty of Arts and Social Science, and currently working at UWC. And, his son, Sa'eed, an SU Engineering graduate (December 2022), is doing a Master's degree in Mechatronic Engineering at SU.

Fataar's substantial experience as a university middle manager has given him ample people and process management skills. He describes himself as a “willing learner and adaptor to the requirements of the task at hand." His work as an academic focusing on higher education policy and qualitative research on students also gives him a solid theoretical vantage point to make a success of the tasks ahead in the CIRCoRe office.

Leading such a multifaceted initiative means there's no such thing as a typical workday for the busy professor.

“My working day starts early and runs late into the night. I do many meetings daily, planning and consultation about the CIRCoRe process. I do lots of reading and writing about the various dimensions of the process. I also continue to supervise around 12 thesis students and research and write. Conference and workshop attendance is also part of my ongoing work."

In between work commitments, he walks to stay fit, and he tries to exercise at least three to four times a week. At home, Fataar relaxes by watching streamed TV and sports with his family. And every now and then he likes to return to a passion that started in his youth – lay preaching and mentoring young people.

  • A full-day CIRCoRe and workstream workshop will be held on 13 May 2023, where a comprehensive road map and deliverables for each workstream and the overall process will be developed.