The Evolution of Admissions and Retention Policies at an Historically White South African University

By Mabokela, Reitumetse Obakeng | The Journal of Negro Education, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

The Evolution of Admissions and Retention Policies at an Historically White South African University


Mabokela, Reitumetse Obakeng, The Journal of Negro Education


A brief overview of South Africa's higher education history contextualizes this article's examination of how admissions policies and procedures at the University of Cape Town (UCT), an historically White South African university, have been affected by increasing enrollments of Black students since the passage of the 1983 Universities Amendment Act. This is followed by an institutional profile that delineates the specific changes in admissions policies and procedures related to Black students at UCT from 1983 to 1995. Data are presented by race and gender. The article concludes with a critical analysis of UCT's academic development programs and alternative admissions criteria.

INTRODUCTION

The origins of higher education in South Africa date back to 1829 and the establishment of the University of the Cape of Good Hope-the present-day University of Cape Town (UCT)-and the University of Stellenbosch, founded in 1874. These early institutions of higher learning were established primarily to prepare White males for further educational training abroad. They were modeled after British institutions; their students were White, and their academic staff came primarily from Britain and other European countries. It was not until early in the 20th century, with the passage of the University Act of 1916, that provisions were made for the establishment of the first university for non-White South Africans. That legislation established the South African Native College, now known as the University of Fort Hare, and the University of South Africa, a correspondence university for the nation's "Blacks," or its African, Colored, and Indian/ Asian populations.

As this article makes plain, the history of South African higher education is intricately bound to and influenced by political developments. Upon assuming leadership in 1948 until the 1994 democratic elections, the National Party (NP) government of the nation's White minority played a decisive role in the development of higher education. With its doctrine of apartheid, the NP introduced the plethora of legislation that systematically entrenched racial segregation at all levels of society, including the educational system. Within five years of taking power, the NP government passed the Bantu Education Act of 1953, which created separate systems of education for Africans, Coloreds, Indians/ Asians, and Whites. This Act was followed by the Universities Amendment Act of 1959 that prohibited the admission of Blacks to historically White universities and established separate universities for Blacks along racial/ethnic lines. Subsequently, between 1951 and 1968, six South African colleges became full-fledged, independent universities serving Whites only: the University of the Witwatersrand (1922), the University of Pretoria (1930), Natal University (1949), the University of the Orange Free State (1950), Rhodes University (1951), and Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education (1951). Two new Whites-only universities were founded during this period: the University of Port Elizabeth in 1965 and Rand Afrikaans University in 1968 (Muller, 1991).

Institutional development in South African higher education also reflected the cultural and linguistic duality of the South African settler population. The Afrikaans-language universities of Stellenbosch, Pretoria, Orange Free State, Potchefstroom, and Rand Afrikaans-became the nucleus of Afrikaner (Dutch Boer) nationalism and cultural consciousness (Booysen, 1989; Gwala, 1988; Marcum, 1982). The English-language universitiesCape Town, Witwatersrand, Rhodes, and Natal-have historically been perceived as politically liberal in the South African context for their strong commitment to the ideals of academic freedom and interracial and interethnic relations (Taylor, 1990; Vale, 1987).

The Extension of Universities Act, passed in 1959, set forth provisions for ethnically based institutions of higher learning designed to serve South Africa's African, Colored, and Indian/Asian populations. …

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