28 August 2006

UCT not an ivory tower

I refer to Dr V Gherasim's letter to Ms Nazeema Mohammed (Monday Paper Vol 25 no 18). Clearly, Dr Gherasim does not understand two important issues about the place of UCT in South Africa at this moment. One is that an institution such as UCT is not an ivory tower and thus cannot be divorced from its social and historical context. UCT, like it or not, like the rest of South African institutions, has to engage in a process of transformation. The second issue is that Dr. Gherasim fails to recognise the importance of the ongoing work of restitution and reconciliation that needs to be done in this country, albeit painful and difficult.

Part of this necessary work is an acknowledgement that black, working class, women, differently abled and rurally based South Africans have been excluded from tertiary institutions in the past through legislation and/or through the discriminatory workings of everyday cultures in these centres of "Truth".

Another part of this necessary work is through realising the benefits of diversifying the make-up of the university community in terms of ability, race, gender or class and by targeting individuals from these previously excluded groups for recruitment to this institution. This does not mean that these previously excluded individuals will drop the standards of "Truth". If anything, they will probably enhance a previously homogenous population group's experiences and therefore perspectives of "Truth".

A related issue is that the perspectives on "Truth" are multifaceted. A physicist who describes a tree in terms of its solid state is equally correct about "Truth" as a botanist who describes the tree in terms of its species, as a child who describes a tree as an object to climb up and view the world. No-one is wrong. One of the benefits of diversity is through accessing other perspectives on "Truth" and the enormous contribution that a richly diverse university community can make to the "Truth".

The one means of increasing diversity is by accessing different points of view, and the different, lived experiences of individuals who are also described as black, female, working class, homosexual, heterosexual or disabled. These labels do not necessarily prevent these individuals from obtaining the necessary qualifications to work at this institution or their ability to think critically about their everyday worlds, or their ability to communicate with students in a classroom.

We should not want to have an institution where it is only a majority of white, straight, male able-bodied academics who have access to the "Truth".


Roger Arendse
Jane Bennett
Judy Favish
Jonathan Grossman
Leslie London
Zetu Makamandela-Mgugulwa
Linda Ronnie
Crain Soudien
Cal Volks
Jody Cedra
Salma Ismail
Elaine Salo
Lillian Goredema
Edwina Goliath
Nokuthula Jantjies
Linda Futuse
David Jacobs
Zimitri Erasmus
Puleng Phooko

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