Race and Higher Education in South Africa

By Mabokela, Reitumetse Obakeng | Black Issues in Higher Education, May 1, 1997 | Go to article overview

Race and Higher Education in South Africa


Mabokela, Reitumetse Obakeng, Black Issues in Higher Education


As South Africa enters the post-election era, the future of race relations in higher education is still undefined.

The historically differential treatment of the three subgroups collectively differential treatment of the three Africans, Coloreds, and Indians -- poses a remarkable challenge to policy-makers who have to transform the curriculum and formulate new strategies for the re-allocation of resources. During the apartheid era, the following racial classification terms were conceptualized: "White" refers to people of European descent; "African" refers to the indigenous people of South Africa; "Colored" refers to people of mixed Africa, Malay, Khoi, and European descent; "Indian" or "Asian" refers to people of Asian descent -- excluding Japanese, who were classified honorary whites; "Black" refers collectively to Africans, Coloreds and Indians and is a political term which emerged out of the Black consciousness philosophy in the 1970s.

The continuing significance of race and the constant reconceptualization of racial identity raise a number of issues.

It is evident that the current curriculum at both historically white and Black universities is heavily Euro-centric. There is still a pervasive attitude that there is nothing wrong with this curriculum. The problem has been defined in terms of the increasing presence of the "under-prepared" (mostly Black) students in institutions of higher education. This attitude was echoed at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association held in San Francisco last month by a professor from the University of Potchefstroom, a historically white university, when he stated that: "...white universities are Western animals and they have to conform to the high academic standards of the West. If Black students want to attend our universities, they have to adjust to the way things operate at these universities."

These attitudes demonstrate the arrogance of some South African scholars who still equate Euro-centric ideas with intellectual superiority.

It is not enough to give all South Africans the same quality of education without changing the content. In other words, the current curriculum which contains abundant negative portrayals of Black culture cannot be used as the universal curriculum. Some scholars have called for the "Africanization" of the curriculum to reflect the interests of students represented in higher education -- a proposal which has ignited a heated debate within the education sector.

Beyond incorporating Black history and literature into the textbooks, what does "Africanization" really mean? …

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