Academic journal article Educational Research for Social Change

Humanising Higher Education in South Africa through Dialogue as Praxis

Academic journal article Educational Research for Social Change

Humanising Higher Education in South Africa through Dialogue as Praxis

Article excerpt

Introduction

Higher education (hereafter, HE) in South Africa cannot be understood outside the constitutive role race has played since its beginning (Soudien, 2016). HE has emerged in relation to historic and distinct phases and sets of circumstances during the history of South Africa (Thaver & Thaver, 2015). Although the interrelated histories of HE and the South African nation since colonisation are complex, multilayered, contentious and, as Soudien (2016, pp. 8) referred to it, a site of "perverse ambivalence," we will for the purpose of this article distinguish between two historical periods: the period before 1994 and the period after 1994. Thaver and Thaver (2015, pp. 282) referred to pre-1994 as the period of the "white South African nation." The establishment of the white South African nation was a result of colonialism, the Anglo-Afrikaans struggle, the discovery of gold and diamonds, the growing demand for cheap labour and, finally, the apartheid framework for separate development (Soudien, 2016; Thaver & Thaver, 2015). Alexander (2011) referred to the post-1994 period as the period in which South Africans could construct a new historic community without race thinking and racial discrimination: a new political community and a new cohesive nation.

Race as a concept is never neutral (Pillay, 2015). Pillay (2015, pp. 137) argued that "the individual is therefore locked into, framed and envisioned within a group identity that he or she has not chosen to be in and this identity determines one's fate." The superiority of one race over others cannot explain itself-it needs to be justified (Soudien, 2016). In order to justify a constant supply of cheap labour to maintain prosperity and policies of separate development pre-1994, a solidification process of race and race hierarchy was implanted in the nation's imagination (Soudien, 2016; Thaver & Thaver, 2015). As a result, "white" universities of this period positioned themselves in relation to the white South African nation while "ethnic" universities were established as a function of the apartheid conception of "other nations" in South Africa (Thaver & Thaver, 2015, pp. 282). One of the systematic reforms in HE, post-1994, was a restructuring of the binary HE sector. The 36 racially and ethnically patterned HE institutions were reduced to 23 (two new universities were recently added, therefore, 25) and placed under a single government structure (Thaver & Thaver, 2015). During the post-1994 period, there has been a demographic shift towards broader access for students from historically disadvantaged communities. Thaver and Thaver (2015, pp. 288-289), however, rightfully questioned whether the knowledge and the institutional cultures students are exposed to "capture the full diversity and complexity of the nation-in-becoming." A nation-in-becoming points to the challenges HE and the South African society face in relation to social cohesion or to what Alexander (2011, pp. 37) referred to as "a new historical community."

During 2014 and 2015, accusations of discrimination and exclusion at universities throughout South Africa were made by students and student representative bodies (cf. Open University and Campus Spring). In August 2015, the student organisation, Open University, at Stellenbosch University commissioned a video, Luister (Contraband, 2015), in which students narrated their experiences of discrimination and exclusion on campus. Students claimed that authorities did not listen to them, silenced their complaints, and that they experienced "blackness" as a social burden. While the university initially accused members of Open University of damaging the corporate image of the university and threatened disciplinary action, the university later agreed to enter into dialogue with the organisation regarding transformation and alleged discrimination and exclusion. The aim of this article is to explore conditions for dialogue as humanising praxis, and the possibilities it may present for humanising postapartheid higher education. …

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