Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Correcting the Inequities of the Past

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Correcting the Inequities of the Past

Article excerpt

Before embarking on a tour of historically Black colleges and universities, Dr. Makaziwe Phumla Mandela, daughter of South African President Nelson Mandela, stopped by the offices of Black Issues in Higher Education to discuss a wide range of issues facing higher education in the new South Africa.

Since 1994, Mandela, an anthropologist and educator, has been the affirmative action and equal opportunity advisor for one of South Africa's largest universities, the University of the Witwatersrand. Before that, she worked with the African Academy of Sciences, a non-governmental organization based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Mandela was in the United States as a Fulbright 50th Anniversary Distinguished Fellow. During her month-long visit, The College Fund/UNCF hosted Mandela as she toured 14 of the organization's member colleges and universities.

Educated both in the United States and in South Africa, Mandela earned a master's degree in sociology and a doctorate in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She earned a bachelor's degree n social work from the University of Fort Hare in Alice, South Africa. A wife and mother of four children, Mandela lives with her family Johannesburg.

She has written and spoken extensively on the role of women and girls in society. In this interview, she discussed education reform post-apartheid South Africa, and the need to critically evaluate African history.

How would you differentiate what you understand affirmative action to mean in the United States compared to South Africa?

I don't really see any differences per se. I think the difference would be in the historical context of both countries. Within South Africa the debate is different. Here [in the United States] Blacks, Hispanics and people of color are in the minority. In South Africa they are in the majority and people would argue that because of that you don't have to have affirmative action. But the arguments for and against affirmative action are the same.

Is the emphasis in post-apartheid South Africa on assuring that whites will have equal participation in higher education or sustain some level of influence?

I don't think that there is pressure or an emphasis that you have to assure whites. The strategy of the ANC (African National Congress) is to build a new nation with a focus on reconciliation. Some people may interpret it as assuring [whites] that they have full participation, but I think that in South Africa, everybody accepts that Blacks and whites will have equal footing and certain things will be done. Whether you call that affirmative action or corrective action, it's basically to correct the inequities and imbalances of the past.

I think that everybody accepts that something has to be done, but we are not of the same voice about how we should do it or that affirmative action is the right way to do it. There are many who argue that affirmative action hasn't worked anywhere in the world; it hasn't worked in the United States. Actually, we shouldn't even talk about affirmative action in terms of race, but in terms of financial need.

Will the facilities at historically Black institutions be upgraded to be equal with white schools?

There need to be choices, but what those choices will be ... the ministry [of Education] has made a commitment to fund more of the historically Black universities like Fort Hare or the University of the North much more than the historically white institutions. But the historically white universities have a history of being well funded and well funded by the private sector, so we'll see what happens.

The commitment has to be based on objectives -- what do you want historically Black universities to be? Do you want them to be like one of the Ivy Leagues of South Africa? If so, it's going to take them a long time because they don't have a history or culture of research . …

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