'You will hear sad stories‚' says black academic as Unisa racism hearings begin

20 February 2018 - 18:43
By Sipho Mabena
Unisa Vice- Chancellor, Professor Mandla Makhanya.
Image: Facebook/Unisa Unisa Vice- Chancellor, Professor Mandla Makhanya.

The University of South Africa has roped in the SA Human Rights Commission to conduct an extensive inquiry into allegations of racism‚ sexism‚ harassment and unfair discrimination in its College of Law.

The commission‚ which kicked off its three-day public hearings at the university’s main campus in Pretoria on Tuesday‚ has received written submissions and will also hear oral testimony from current and former staff members and other interested parties.

Vice-Chancellor‚ Mandla Makhanya‚ in December last year asked the SAHRC to intervene amid brewing racial tensions in the law faculty. This followed a complaint from a staff member‚ who raised an alarm over racism and harassment.

Professor Melodie Labuschaigne formally complained to the university‚ alleging that her black colleagues were blocking her appointment as dean of the faculty because she was white.

But black academics have shot back‚ saying the College of Law was a white supremacy and white privilege stronghold‚ with black academics overlooked for promotion‚ transfers and academic appointments.

The hearings‚ chaired by the commission’s Gauteng provincial manager‚ Buang Jones‚ will‚ among other things‚ consider the institution’s Employment Equity policy and the process of the policy formulation. They will also determine whether the policy is aligned with the values of the Constitution‚ the Bill of Rights and the Employment Equity Act – and consider whether the university’s employment equity plan makes provision for appointments‚ transfers or promotions that reflect the demographic representativeness of races and genders.

Jones said the SAHRC has received substantial information that will determine the way forward.

“We are constitutionally bound to investigate allegations that come before us that have to do with the violation of human rights. This is indeed a unique hearing. We appreciate the confidence that have been bestowed on us. We hope through this process we will find a lasting solution for allegations that have been raised that have gained prominence among the staff of the university‚” he said.

Jurisprudence lecturer and secretary general of Black Forum‚ Kgaugudi Morota‚ said the panel should brace itself for shocking evidence of racism that the forum would present.

He argued for the expansion of the scope of the inquiry to other faculties‚ saying the commission will hear “sad stories”.

“Black people in the college occupy junior positions. White people start as senior lecturers. If you call a meeting and say you want senior lecturers you will find few blacks as senior lecturers; if you say associate professors‚ you will find two black professors. If you say full professors‚ you might find one who is black professor‚” he said.

The three-member panel has invited written submissions from the parties for it to consider expanding the scope of the investigation to the entire institution.

The hearing resumes on Wednesday.