17 November 2003

Monday Paper has a debate on its hands

This letter is written as a response to the letter in the Monday Paper (Vol 22 #33) by AC Serote, Climate Survey will Muddle Debate and, what in our view, is the VC's rather unfortunate response: Transformation is a Shared Responsibility. We support the stance taken by Mr Serote.

While the VC's words are eloquently constructed, ultimately it opens the way for critical dissection and debate. For instance, why mince words with what is an "event" and what is a "process"? The Big Bang is considered an event for most of us, but for someone out there it was a process! Yes, transformation must happen, but UCT's position has remained stagnant for many years. So whether we talk about the "reflection" of national or regional demographics, it is all just an "academic" (sic) exercise. The point is we know more or less what the breakdowns are. Recent demographics show that whites in South Africa constitute 9.6% of the total population. It is not imperative that the numbers simply match up. What is important are definite and measurable goals and timelines and a declared commitment on how we get there.

If we look at the UCT 2003 report on employment equity that has just been submitted to the Department of Labour in October 2003, what do we find? We find that departments and faculties at UCT have submitted their staff numbers for 2003. In the category of management/legislative, the 2002 figures show that posts occupied by whites at this level constitute 69% and professionals (the category in which academic staff are placed) constitute 70%. The numerical goals set university-wide in the employee equity report are 73% and 71%, respectively. Clearly, one does not have to be an Einstein to see that not much change is expected or sought in these categories of workers at UCT.

In the lower pay classes some change is foreseen, but the figures are skewed by a high 83% in the category of female clerks. And so we go on. Our main point is that the UCT employment equity report lacks quantitative and qualitative accuracy and requires a more rigorous scientific interrogation to expose the real situation, namely, that transformation at UCT is in crisis.

We reject the standard responses often made when these issues come up, for example, that we like to throw out the so-called "race card" or can't we see "that there just are not enough qualified and or experienced black academics or they leave because they are attracted to higher salaries out there". From our personal experience, and not hearsay, we know this to be untrue.

Continual monitoring and analysing of yearly statistical data is not the real answer. What is urgently needed is that the "executive authority" and "budgets" that are devolved and embedded in faculties, must be accounted for by the deans and heads of departments in terms of equity and transformation. This is where the core of the problem lies. Line managers are not being held accountable for the lack of transformation at UCT. Also problematic are the composition of selection, merit and promotion committees. Is it OK simply to attach a copy of UCT's current employment equity policy for perusal by members of such committees? Who reads the fine print anyway? And so the cycle continues.

If we continue to give the few (academic) posts that do become available to the so-called best candidate based on experience and qualifications, then we revert to what amounts to a meaningless notion of "equal opportunity". Do we mean everyone has an equal chance, when the scales are clearly tipped in favour of the previously advantaged? "Excellence", another well-used notion at UCT, needs to be conceptualised and critically re-examined.

Whose notion of "excellence" are we talking about? The dominant (white) social group? Excellence is highly dependent on opportunity! The question is: is UCT really providing the institutional culture and structures that give black people the opportunity to succeed? We think not!

What we need are affirmative employment practices. UCT has tried the "equal opportunity" (EO) route and the abysmal results are there for all to see. Donor money is used to attract "good quality" black academics and if they prove themselves, say over a three-year period, they are "promised" employment if a post becomes available at that point.

But what have been the chances of that happening? Posts are dynamic and people leave at various points. If there is not a definite "plan" for Joe Soap or Mary Bloggs, well, UCT can console itself that "they did get three years' experience", and off they go (maybe to fight another day). Meanwhile, the posts that do become available go to the white persons. We are also not convinced that tenure (in the case of "permanent employment") and EO evaluation amounts to the same thing.

Christina Qunta (1995:71) says very boldly in her book, Who's Afraid of Affirmative Action, that: "Companies almost routinely place Africans in positions for which they are overqualified, or embark on a training programme, sometimes unnecessarily and often permanently." Earlier in the year the Black Caucus was formed, drawing on staff from all pay classes, with the specific aim of seeing how we can, with the appropriate structures and strategies, address and confront the pervasive problem of transformation and employment equity at UCT. This letter has the support of Black Caucus members.

Dr Kashif Marcus, EBE
Dr Danny Mashao, EBE
Azeem Khan, EBE
Roger Adams
Roger Arendse
Edwina Goliath, SDSD
Jody Cedras
Royston Pillay

Keep it rolling

Given the publication of Sean Archer's letter in response to Chupe Serote's letter, it seems we have a debate on our hands! Great stuff!!

Transformation receives pp4-5 coverage in the Monday Paper Vol 22#33 which, to cynical minds, is precisely and sadly a further commentary on just what UCT's priorities are.

I hope (yes, still hoping) that the Monday Paper does not stifle debate in the interests of expediency on this one. Let the 'transformation ball keep rolling'.

It's about time.

Roger Arendse

As a full-colour double-page spread, pages 4 and 5 represent the most valuable space in the publication - Ed.

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