In 2022 the University of Cape Town (UCT) reintegrated as a community in a post-pandemic world, adjusting to pivots and hybrid work, growing agility and producing outcomes for change. Recuperation efforts resulting from the pandemic significantly influenced South Africa’s financial and economic woes. UCT’s management predicted serious financial limitations in 2022 that would affect access for students and staff. In these kinds of conditions, the work of Transformation, Diversity and Inclusivity (TDI) may be financially downsized or compromised in favour of other areas of need. Deprioritised TDI programmes due to constrained capacity and financial resources lead to a less than optimal approach, with a possible effect of a hypervigilant approach to compliance with minimum output.
Over the past five years, TDI programmes have been consistently positioned in UCT through volunteerism of the Transformation Committees (TCs) and the leadership committees. With the new deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Elelwani Ramugondo, taking up her position, a stronger trajectory focused on aligning the academic project with transformation goals has been set in place. Drawing on Professor Ramugondo’s scholarship on the decoloniality of doing, which is based on occupational consciousness, a concept she coined, and the research of UCT scholars in decolonial thinking such as Professor Harsha Kathard (decolonial curriculum), Professor Floretta Boonzaier (feminist, critical and postcolonial psychologies) and Professor Shose Kessi (decolonial psychology, community-based empowerment and social change), a path for transformative decolonial praxis has been chartered. Along this course of scholarship, UCT black scholars are deepening thinking towards articulating systemic change that achieves authentic transformation.
With fresh and energised purpose and intention, Ramugondo introduced an overall strategy for transformation, centred on three key areas:
- An integrated vision to cultivate a humanising praxis through integrity, strategy, policies and data analytics, and across the three pillars of UCT Vision 2030.
- A capacitated portfolio.
- Clarity of strategic intent and impact.
The year also saw the articulation of a clear and intentional strategic objective between the employment equity (EE) barrier analysis, the work of the UCT Inclusivity Strategy, and diversity training. This approach ensured that the university responded appropriately and recorded its efforts to achieve diversity, transformation and inclusion on the UCT Transformation Benchmarks tool. This tool is aligned with the national Department of Higher Education and Training’s (DHET) Transformation Barometer and Department of Employment and Labour (DoEL) regulations.
In 2022, the university thrived academically, proudly reclaiming its position as the leading university in Africa. Through the transformation-focused knowledge contributions, advances towards achieving social justice were made. Internally, the university community was affected and influenced by several pressures, such as an interrogative employment equity review by the DoEL, financial constraints, student protests, staff wellness concerns, and angst about professional, administrative support and service (PASS) staff progression in relation to the new Employment Equity plan. In this context, some Transformation Committees were at pains to sustain the momentum of their equity, inclusion and transformation actions.
Highlights and challenges
- The UCT Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB) was involved in a community development project, assisting with the expansion of a children’s library and other outreach programmes focusing on African leadership and decoloniality. They hosted various offerings and learning spaces which focused on inclusivity, women in business and the gender gap. They also reported an increase of appointments from underrepresented groups, including the first woman of colour in the faculty to be appointed full professor.
- The Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) reported numerous highlights, including the appointment of a gender diversity advocate and an FHS Transformation Coordinator to enhance and support TDI in the faculty. They have also introduced an annual Staff Wellness Day and an FHS Strategic Planning Workshop. In addition, they reported on various initiatives in departments that contribute to TDI work, such as social responsiveness initiatives, employee wellness training, and TDI workshops on various themes, including decolonising global health in Africa.
- The Faculty of Humanities (HUM) reported that they had hosted Sara Ahmed in a public lecture series that was very well attended. While there was a decrease in the number of positions in the faculty, the percentage of African females, African males and coloured females remained the same and the percentage of white males decreased by 1%. The Religious Observance team completed its concept document for discussion and intervention, and it was submitted to HR, the Registrar’s office, and the Department of Student Affairs.
- The International Academic Programmes Office (IAPO) reported having contributed financially towards the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) Africa Day event, supporting the Africa Month indigenous games night, and conducting a successful clothing drive for international students. IAPO also facilitated the election of its incoming TC for the 2022–2024 term. It was also involved in projects to foster relationships with communities and hosted sessions related to TDI, such as a bullying and harassment workshop.
- Properties & Services (P&S) reported that its practices remained the same as in 2021 because staff were re-integrated onto campus post-COVID-19. They focused on creating a sense of belonging through increased communication initiatives from leadership and quarterly leadership sessions where staff were addressed, and motivational speakers were invited to engage staff. External facilitators were brought into P&S to engage staff on various levels regarding transformation initiatives.
- The Science Faculty (SCI) reported a successful faculty-wide transformation showcase. Of the 17 academic appointments made in 2022, 10 were black South Africans, of whom four were female. There were five black heads of department (HoDs), an increase from three in 2021, which indicates a move towards meeting EE targets.
- The Research Office (RO) reported that they had successfully recruited new TC members and that they co-hosted a Heritage Day event.
- The Commerce Faculty (COMM) created a new role of Deputy Dean for Transformation and Inclusion (T&I) in 2022 and launched Commerce Engage, a platform that allows stakeholders to engage on T&I work and topics. The Commerce Dean’s Advisory Committee also developed a new strategy that is underpinned by transformation, inclusion and care. Commerce has the largest proportion of black South African postgraduate students in the university (29.1% as opposed to 23.2% across the university).
- The Finance Department reported that their numerical targets progressed well against the new EE Plan. They also noted that staff cohesion is at an all-time high, and this was demonstrated through high attendance at General Staff Meetings.
- Human Resources (HR) reported on its implementation of the EE Plan and progress in addressing the identified barriers to employment equity.
- The Communication and Marketing Department (CMD) reported having compulsory sessions with the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) and subsequently using the sessions’ outputs to map out their inclusion plan. This process was conducted to protect their staff members’ well-being and ensure that they could still meet CMD’s operational outputs.
- The Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment (EBE) reflected on sexual harassment workshops, men’s talks, transformational talks and supporting a sanitary drive as part of their highlights. They also made progressive gains in terms of demographics and EE targets.
- The Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED) reported on various programmes that were rolled out in the university, including the Academic Development Programme, the New Generation Leadership Programme, and the Global Citizenship Programme. In addition, there was a focus on enabling access for students through supporting distance learning and the foregrounding of a graduate exit survey.
It was also a very challenging year, marked by student protests, loadshedding, increasing economic disparities and governance instability. Fatigue, apathy, disorientation and burn-out are issues mentioned by some transformation actors, along with a deep sense of mistrust and division.
There were some specific challenges TCs wanted to note:
- The insufficient points of connection between TCs and the entities they represent, and between the TC and the management of the entity. This leads TC work to be isolated and not representative of broader faculty/departmental challenges.
- There is no dedicated budget for transformation activities; administrative support is needed, and time is not allocated or represented in job descriptions / key performance areas (KPAs).
- At UCT, participating in or supporting TDI work bears no clear positive consequence, credit or incentive.
- Incentivisation and accountability do not have to be financial. There is a need for clear, practical target setting.
- It is difficult to gauge faculty “climate” in a hybrid working environment and working from home characterised 2022.
- EE reps have a substantial burden. TC reps are exhausted and have limited capacity to drive campaigns.
- Staff members and students struggle to see themselves represented in structures and cultures of the university. The dominant structures and cultures replicate and centre dominant western and colonial physical environments, epistemologies and knowledge bases.
- There are shifting priorities, ie, protests, loadshedding, timetabling. All these require focus, impacting the normal business and strategic objectives.
- There is considerable unevenness across the faculty in terms of who engages with TDI initiatives and staff are afraid to speak up over prejudice related matters.
After collecting data over a four-year period, we can map trends in areas of growth and areas that may need particular attention. It is, however, evident that in 2022, TCs and transformation actors have made progress: they have scored higher on six of the nine benchmarks than in 2021. There are three benchmarks in which overall scores have decreased.
Despite an increase in benchmark scores, there is still a need for deep transformation at UCT, as evidenced in governance challenges, staff retention rates and representation across pay classes, lack of student access and support, and the need for a review of the curriculum. The issues that UCT grapples with are complex and interrelated. Transformation cannot take place in a vacuum. For example, teaching and learning need to be transformed and the transformation needs to be embedded in the curriculum in the form of pedagogy and content. Furthermore, research and community engagement are also key in the transformation projects and the visions of these two areas of the university’s work need to be aligned to move the transformation project forward holistically.
Ramugondo has put forward a vision for transformation as a humanising praxis. This has shifted the approach to transformation, resulting in the centring of the human element, amplifying mental health and the scholarship of transformation. The application of this vision will allow for a deeper engagement with the current practices and aid the Office for Inclusivity & Change in reviewing the benchmarks in 2024, when UCT will have an opportunity to reflect in collaboration with transformation stakeholders and optimise the benchmark approach to suit the current context.