Universities warned against keeping silent during unrest

Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Sep 22, 2021


FORMER vice-chancellor of Rhodes University Professor Saleem Badat has criticised the leadership of universities in South Africa, for their silence during the July unrest.

More than 350 people were killed in widespread looting and violence, which began in KwaZulu-Natal on July 9, and spread to other provinces, until 18 July.

Speaking during a webinar, hosted by University of the Free State (UFS), Badat said the silence of universities, collectively and individually, during the July unrest, was noticeable, as well as inexplicable and distressing.

“Even if it was to condemn some of what was happening, that didn’t even happen. It is so noticeable that a university in this region of KZN said nothing for virtually nine days, I consider that a failure of leadership of institutions like universities. I hope that there's an honest and critical reflection on this by universities in South Africa,” he said.

On the panel, Badat was joined by Professor Thuli Madonsela from Stellenbosch University, Prof Chitja Twala from University of the Free State, and Internationally renowned historian Professor Hermann Giliomee.

The webinar was held at a time when there’s a renewed focus on the collective responsibility of higher education institutions to assist in solving the key challenges of poverty, inequality, unemployment, and violence in societies.

Speaking on the impact of political influences on university governance structures, Madonsela said having the government involved in university governance is necessary and inevitable, but it has to be transparent and it has to be in line with the constitution.

“Constitutions are like medicine. If you buy it and you don't take it properly, it is not going to work. The impact of the government on universities should be in line with inclusivity in the country.

“Consensus orientation – good governance relies on consensus for all. We need to walk the talk in terms of what the Constitution says. One of the things we've done wrong is that we use universities to build societies of unequals,” said Madonsela.

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