Stellenbosch University (SU) recently hosted an inter-university transformation workshop in collaboration with the Transformation Managers Forum (TMF), a Universities South Africa (USAf) body. Here is a glimpse of the important work that was done during those three days.
Despite the differences in South African universities’ priorities and progress in the cause of transformation, there is a common and unifying appreciation of the inherent value of social justice as a primary driver and imperative at institutions of higher learning, as they are both microcosms and examples of how societies could function and should behave. And in this regard transformation managers and offices play a crucial role in enhancing and driving deep institutional change at universities.
This was one of the most important themes and learnings that emerged from the workshop attended by academics and transformation office managers from most of the 26 public universities in South Africa who take responsibility for institutional transformation and change at the various institutions. It was also apt that this workshop followed almost directly after the annual SU Transformation Indaba, held in October 2022.
Prof Crain Soudien, academic and former deputy vice chancellor of the University of Cape Town, spoke of the need to not just accommodate but celebrate differences and diversity. For him this rings true not just in terms of employment equity, but also in teaching and learning – in order to unlock value and move beyond existing norms and paradigms.
“We need to come out of this grip, and develop new sociologies, new languages, new lines of description, and come to think about how power operates in these complex tributaries,” he said. “And it’s a wonderful thing to be able to come to recognise these distinctions as they are instilled among us.”
The head of SU’s Transformation Office, Dr Zethu Mkhize, emphasised the need for the political will for change to come from the top and pointed out that each institution will have differing requirements and priorities.
“We need a theory of change,” said Mkhize, “but it will depend on the context. The theory of change as adopted at University A will not be the same as the one adopted at University B. But what is critical is that the theory of change must be clearly articulated by the Vice-Chancellor as the principal of the institution. If we don’t get buy-in at those levels, then nothing can get done.”
Moderator Dr Bernadette Johnson, director of Transformation and Employment Equity at Wits University, added that change theory must develop into and be supplemented by change practice. Other highlights of the workshop included a talk by Free State Centre for Human Rights affiliate JC van der Merwe, who outlined a dispute-resolution methodology that he implemented at the University of the Free State that demonstrated the need for “conversation before consensus”, as well as a cautionary tale from Nazeema Mohammed, executive director of Inyathelo – The South African Institute for Advancement, who learned many lessons from the “seduction of Big Philanthropy” during her time in the corporate sector.
The workshop included a tour of SU’s visual redress installations on its Stellenbosch campus guided by Dr Leslie van Rooi, SU’s Senior Director: Social Impact and Transformation.
“Stellenbosch University is keenly aware of the role we need to play in the national transformation discourse, and the work that we need to do in this regard – particularly in light of recent painful events on our campus,” said Van Rooi.
“But as we’ve learnt over the course of the inter-varsity transformation workshop, what affects one institution, affects us all. That’s what makes gatherings such as this so important: We return to our daily practice improved by the sharing of knowledge that has taken place and inspired by the inspiring work being done by our colleagues throughout South Africa.”