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Archive for the ‘Academic’ Category

There is a looming education crisis in PE – Jonathan Jansen asks why nobody cares

How to Fix South Africa's SchoolsWe Need to ActLetters to My ChildrenGreat South African TeachersWe Need to Talk


Why is there no public outcry about the fact that since the school year started more than 50 schools had not started classes?

This is the important question asked by renowned academic and author Jonathan Jansen in a recent column for The Times.

In the article entitled “The real education calamity” Jansen why what is going on with schools in Port Elizabeth – or rather what is not going on – is not a national concern.

“I have long discovered that what makes a local concern a national problem depends on whose children it is. Just like a fire in Khayelitsha or Kayamandi does not grab the same public attention and resolve as when flames threaten homes in Fish Hoek or Lakeside, so, too, this crisis in a neglected area of Port Elizabeth barely makes headlines,” the author of How to Fix South Africa’s Schools: Lessons from Schools that Work writes.

Read the article:

If you live in the northern areas of Port Elizabeth, your life chances as a young black child are already slim.

The familiar blights of drugs, gangs and unemployment make for a lethal cocktail of problems from which few youth escape. Which raises the question: Why is there no public outcry about the fact that since the school year started more than 50 schools in the area had not started classes? If there is a slim chance of escaping the daily, deadening churn of existence in this part of the country, it is education. Worse, the parents seem to conspire with the dysfunction of the education department to keep these poor children out of school. Activist parents want more teachers at a ratio of about one teacher to 30 children. The department either does not want to provide that level of staffing and/or it cannot afford additional personnel against a straining compensation bill. It does not matter – the children’s slim life chances are now reduced to less than zero.

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Discover the benefits of lifelong learning and win a copy of Jonathan Jansen’s We Need to Act

How to Fix South Africa's SchoolsWe Need to ActJonathan Jansen chatted to The Catalyst recently about the importance of lifelong learning for business owners.

Jansen, who is the vice-chancellor and rector of the University of the Free State, says everybody should be able to continue learning throughout their life, whether you’re “in kindergarten or you’re 50 years old and working for yourself”.

“It’s falls on the individual’s shoulders, ultimately. Take the initiative to boost your skills. You can make a difference. We need to act!” – Jonathan Jansen

The Catalyst shares a number of ideas and online resources to make this happen, and is also giving away three copies of Jansen’s book We Need to Act.

To stand a chance of winning a copy, all you have to do is subscribe to The Catalyst and share their post on social media.

The deadline for entries is 5 February, 2016.


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Mbilwi Secondary School excels again – Redi Tlhabi speaks to top matriculant and principal to find out how

How to Fix South Africa's SchoolsMbilwi Secondary School in Limpopo – one of the remarkable schools featured in Jonathan Jansen and Molly Blank’s book How to Fix South Africa’s Schools: Lessons from Schools that Work – has excelled once again.

Talk Radio 702′s Redi Tlhabi spoke to Hamandishe Mathivha, top 2015 Mbilwi matric pupil, and Cedric Lidzhade, principal of the school, to hear how they overcome various obstacles like overcrowded classrooms and poor infrastructure to produce some of the country’s best science students.

Mathivha got 100 percent in Mathematics, Physical Science and Geography in his final matric exams. He says it was easy, because he loves the subjects so much:

From a really young age I’ve been curious about mathematical concepts and scientific facts; it’s just my passion and I’m really curious about the world. I want to know stuff, and that curiosity really developed a passion in me and a love for science and mathematics.

I think that it’s really important to, as a student, love the subjects you do because then it’s never really work. Then, it’s not like when you are studying you are working. You’re playing; it’s your hobby, your thing.

The young man ascribes his joy in these subjects to his dedicated teachers who remain motivated and sacrificial in their approach to education. Principal Lidzhade, a past pupil of the school, says that he expects his teachers to be energised and eager; to give education their all. They focus on the younger learners to build strong foundations, which makes it easier for senior students to excel.

When asked how they get pupils to enjoy science and maths so much, Lidzhade stresses that they do not treat these subjects like punishments. They impart excitement about knowledge and the discovery of facts and hope that the kids will catch on.

Listen to the inspiring podcast to find out how Mbilwi Secondary School succeeds despite strenuous circumstances:

Watch a short film about Mbilwi Secondary School, created as part of the project that lead to How to Fix South Africa’s Schools:

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Succeeding against the Odds: Twin Brothers from Khayelitsha Graduate as Doctors (Video)

How to Fix South Africa's SchoolsWandile and Wanele Ganya, twins from Khayelitsha’s J-Section, have beaten the odds to graduate with Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degrees from Stellenbosch University.

Wandile and Wanele matriculated in 2009 from the Centre of Science and Technology (COSAT) in Khayelitsha, one of the schools featured in How to Fix South Africa’s Schools: Lessons from Schools that Work by Jonathan Jansen and Molly Blank.

Ilse Fredericks writes for the Cape Argus that during their matric year, Wanele contracted tuberculosis and Wandile took care of him, making sure he didn’t fall behind in his schoolwork. On top of helping his brother, Wandile was also one of the top achievers in the Western Cape senior certificate exam. The experience inspired the twins to study medicine.

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Wandile and Wanele Ganya, 23, grew up in Khayelitsha’s J-Section, and the family relied on the wages of their mother, Sylvia, a domestic worker.

During their matric year at the Centre of Science and Technology in Khayelitsha, Wanele contracted tuberculosis and Wandile helped to take care of him and ensured that he didn’t miss out on any school work.

“I think that is part of the reason why we became doctors, but we also saw so many people from our community and our school doing extraordinary things and that inspired us,” said Wanele.

Wandile was one of the Western Cape’s top matriculants in 2009.

He said financial and other support the pair had received from Stellenbosch University had helped “immensely”.

Both have been recipients of the Rector’s Award for Succeeding Against the Odds.

The Centre of Science and Technology was established in 1999 to strengthen the quality of Maths and Science education in townships in the Western Cape.

With impressive results and a strong reputation, it’s no wonder COSAT is one of the institutions Jansen and Blank chose for their study on schools that work.

Watch the video for more on COSAT:


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“Training Gives You Skills; Education Makes You a Human Being” – Jonathan Jansen (Video)

We Need to ActHow to Fix South Africa's SchoolsJonathan Jansen was recently invited to Story Sessions, an initiative founded by Travis Gale and sponsored by Appletree Catalyst Agency and FMI that aims to share inspirational stories that will change your world.

Brad Toerien, the CEO of FMI, said in his introduction to Jansen’s speech that the University of the Free State vice-chancellor and rector has always been his hero. Gale added: “He’s a man who’s authentically used love to transition a community.”

The author of How to Fix South Africa’s Schools: Lessons from Schools that Work and We Need to Act shared his life story and his view on the future of our country.

Jansen shared anecdotes from his childhood in Port Elizabeth, saying that “Sterimilk and Maltabella is better than sex”. He also spoke about the teacher who changed his entire perspective on life when he told him, “You pretend you know nothing but actually you’re very smart.”

Jansen reflected on his first year at university, when lecturers often told students that they weren’t going to make it before they could even try, and the demoralising effect such statements have on young people: “We make, in a nutshell, a big mistake in South Africa – we confuse training with education. Training gives you skills; education makes you a human being.”

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“You Can’t Focus on Reconciliation Without Focussing on Social Justice” – Jonathan Jansen (Video)

We Need to ActHow to Fix South Africa's SchoolsJonathan Jansen’s name has become synonymous with reconciliation because of efforts at the University of the Free State where he is vice-chancellor and rector.

Morning Live’s Ayanda-Allie Paine spoke to him at the launch of Reconciliation Month, which is celebrated in December, about the importance of reconciliation, race relations in South Africa and his hopes for the future of the country. He says one way in which the country can be truly reconciled is if South Africans can truly embrace one another’s memories, the good and the bad “and to try to figure out how we together, having been entangled in the past, can work together to solve the pressing problems of the present, whether it’s education or drought or problems of corruption”.

Jansen also talks about the “dream of 1994″ and the notion that the democratically elected government only put a band-aid over a gaping wound. He says it’s easy to say that now, as people have selective memories, and calls for people to realise that the only way forward for the country is to move together. “I’m very optimistic,” he says about the future of the country and reconciliation. He points out, however: “You can’t focus on reconciliation without focussing on social justice.”

Jansen is the author of We Need to Act and co-author of How to Fix South Africa’s Schools: Lessons from Schools that Work.

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“Help Our Youth Pass the Examination of Life” – Jonathan Jansen’s Mentorship Challenge

How to Fix South Africa's SchoolsWe Need to ActJonathan Jansen, the author of How to Fix South Africa’s Schools: Lessons from Schools that Work and We Need to Act, has found an interesting and innovative way of engaging with first year students at the University of the Free State, where he is rector and vice-chancellor.

Jansen invites 10 students for breakfast every weekday. He serves a simple breakfast, prepared by his wife, and sits down to speak with them about their experience at university.

David Melvill wrote an article about Jansen’s breakfast’s for BizNews:

He asks them two questions:

What has disappointed you most about my university?
What would you like me to do to make your university better?

Mentorship, as practised in his weekday breakfasts, is something that Jansen regards as essential to helping young people succeed.

In a column for The Times, Jansen says that school children need mentors as much as university students, and that anyone can get involved. His challenge: “More important than end-of-year exams, help our youth pass the examination of life.”

The mentor opens the world to you outside the classroom. He or she brings you into networks that children might never otherwise gain from. This special kind of teacher senses learning opportunities over weekends in places like book talks – for once a child discovers the pleasure of reading, a life can change forever. The mentor speaks well of her students in public places, thereby raising the confidence levels of shy, reticent youth more than any lesson on algebraic equations can ever do.

The mentor is “there” for you, always present, listening and responding, caring and promoting the youth in his charge. The mentor teaches wisdom while the regular teacher conveys knowledge. You follow the mentor and a new world opens up to you.

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“Gangsterism Masquerading as Progressive Politics”: Jonathan Jansen on the “New Anger” at SA Universities

How to Fix South Africa's SchoolsWe Need to ActJonathan Jansen recently delivered the Inaugural Stephen Ellis Memorial Lecture at the Netherlands Embassy in Pretoria.

The lecture is titled “A quiet contemplation on the new anger: The state of transformation in South African universities”.

Jansen is Vice-Chancellor and Rector at the University of the Free State and author of How to Fix South Africa’s Schools: Lessons from Schools that Work and We Need to Act.

Jansen believes that “at the core of many of the disruptions at the former white English universities is a kind of gangsterism masquerading as progressive politics”.

Read the lecture:

The Inaugural Stephen Ellis Memorial Lecture
Netherlands Embassy
Brooklyn, Pretoria
Friday 9th October 2015
A quiet contemplation on the new anger: The state of transformation in South African universities
Jonathan D Jansen
University of the Free State


From the time of our first meeting Stephen Ellis struck me as a fine English gentleman, a generous human being and a meticulous scholar. I was not surprised that he would be invited to share the honour of Desmond Tutu Professor, an association he always carried with great pride. It was only later, however, that I would come to appreciate the stature of this Oxford-trained historian in the academic world not only as Editor of two prestigious publications, Africa Confidential and African Affairs, but also as author or co-author of a collection of truly outstanding books on the African condition alongside his towering presence in leading world journals concerned with African Studies.

It was however his book External Mission which would behoorlik set the political cat among the self-adulatory pigeons of the ruling party by demonstrating the continuity of behaviours—corruption, racial and ethnic strife, paranoia and excess—before and after 1994. The seamless, unreflective, one-dimensional and heroic accounts of struggle and conquest were shaken by this remarkable work of scholarship which, I am proud to say, had some of its origins in the archives of the University of the Free State. Yet while I do not share Stephen’s preoccupation with the influence of the Communist Party within the ANC—there were hard realities shaping this co-dependency over a century—I know of no other historical work that better explains the state we are in by taking 1994 as a marker of not only change but continuity with the fractured past of the liberation movements, principally the ANC.

I therefore take my courage this evening from the work of Stephen Ellis as I reflect on the present moment, the turmoil on some prominent university campuses, and what it says about our past and future as a young democracy.

In doing so I thank Professor Gerrie te Haar Stephen’s wife and partner, for considering me to do this Lecture, and your unusually charismatic Ambassador, Marisa Gerards, for the invitation and the platform for honouring Stephen in this way.

The new anger

There is a disturbing vignette somewhere in the middle pages of Memoirs of a Born Free, a book by the young black activist Malaika Mahlatsi who renamed herself Malaika wa Azania. As a learner in a middle class white school, she stumbles on the fact that her teacher’s precious dog died. Looking around at the teary group of fellow learners and the heartbroken teacher, Malaika bursts out laughing. “In Soweto, dogs die all the time,” she writes. The school calls the young Malaika on her heartlessness but for the Earth Sciences student at Rhodes University—also a pristine white institution of her choice—the first-time book author would carry that memory of the dismissal of the pain of others as a badge of pride.

I have studied the somewhat unexpected emergence of this new black anger with a mixture of intrigue and concern. Intrigue, because of who the voices are raising this strident critique of post-apartheid society. The critics are mainly middle class black students (or those aspiring to such status) who attended white schools and white universities in South Africa. In other words, they are for the most part children of privilege as far as their educational aspirations are concerned, and unlike the vast majority of young people who enjoyed access to premium institutions and made that experience work for them, their families and communities—this group of disaffected graduates are angry, and appear very angry. The argument of the newly angry is very simple:

Thank you ANC for what you may have done in the struggle, but no thank you. We reject your closed and circular narrative of freedom—that you came, saw, and conquered. That is your narrative, not ours. We are still not free.

Hence Malaika’s sarcastic title, Memoirs of a Born Free. There is an attempt here at a generational break—the old timers with their warm, fuzzy accounts of struggle and victory, and the new generation which does not feel free in the daily grind of forging a living in a white-dominated economy and grasping for learning in untransformed universities. The older generation should stand back and shut up, and allow the next generation to speak unimpeded and express anger unapologetically. In a refrain often heard on the anger platforms: there is an unyielding assault by whiteness on the black body whether in white university classrooms or at white literary festivals or in everyday life.

But I am drawn to the new anger not only by intrigue but also by a deep concern that once again, as Stephen might have put it, the continuity of destructive behaviours from the past show up in the character of student protests now. There was without any doubt a glorious element to student and indeed community protests which helped set us free. But it is time to acknowledge that there was also the dark side which made us like the perpetrators of that crime against humanity. I speak of unbridled anger, intolerance of dissent and violent confrontation which while understandable, to some extent, in the heat of apartheid, cannot possibly define the content and contours of protests after apartheid. That dark side sometimes included complete disregard for the humanity of others such as in the horrific “necklacing” episodes and the torture, even death, of suspects in camps. It included the emphatic dismissal of education—liberation now—and the loss of status for teachers and teaching from which the post-apartheid school system has never recovered. There is that anger and intolerance that still runs in our veins and shows up all too frequently in the way we protest on the streets, on campuses and, dare I say, in Parliament. That behaviour comes from our violent past and continues into the present.

We have not learnt, in other words, how to conduct ourselves in the context of a democratic state. We have lost the dignity of protest exemplified in the behaviours of people like Walter Sisulu and Beyers Naude and Neville Alexander. In other words, there are left unexplored radical forms of protests that are not reducible to violence and insult and the degradation of things we do not like. Too many influential persons who should know better applaud this dehumanising behaviour that comes with the new anger and it is already clear that the long-term costs will be devastating to school and society.

“Fuck-off whites”—the repeated, shocking words of a young man following the presentation of one especially angry black Ruth First Fellow at Wits—might have unsettled the chairman (and the handful of whites and blacks in the audience) but it carried much support among young blacks in the crowded Great Hall of this chronically unsettled campus. The chairman was at pains to condemn this vile behaviour through a conceptual distinction long lost among this class of youth, between anger and hatred. I have sat in enough of these kinds of outbursts to have felt the heat of this native hatred among young people who had not spent a day living under apartheid or a night in the cells of the white regime; but the anti-white sentiment is undisguised.

By the time the Rhodes Must Fall (RFM) moment came along there was at hand a massive, monumental symbol against which this rage could be levelled—the Rhodes statue on the UCT campus. First the image was doused in human excrement and made the subject of daily mockery until finally the statue was pulled down, Saddam Hussein-like, to the cheers of middle class students, some whites in their number, and consigned to a covered destination off the campus. Rhodes just happened to be in the way, a handy target for a collective anger against the institution. A few weeks later, and things had largely died down. The RFM moment was never going to become a movement; anger alone never sustains anything despite sporadic attempts at revival.

But what exactly is the grievance? At first glance, it is hard to tell. As one astute black scholar observes, “there’s a lot of finger pointing in no particular direction.” Looking closer, the institutional critique is much clearer—the anger seems to be levelled against the lack of transformation: too few black professors, a neo-colonial curriculum, an unwelcoming institutional culture, everyday racism on campus. On that score, there can be little disagreement, and most university leaders will show scorecards of progress while acknowledging complexity in overcoming these problems as quickly as we all wish it could be done.

The grievance becomes a little more complex, however, when it moves away from the straightforward target of university transformation (more black professors) to anger in the realm of black/white relationships. This was what the Ruth First lecture promised to bring to light—the complexity of interracial friendships. At this point the anger becomes intense, even threatening for what then happens is a public baring of the soul of something long suppressed—an unrequited love from white friends. We must pause here.

Not all young people struggle with interracial friendships. In fact, it is my observation across schools and universities that most young black and white South Africans eventually “find each other” through the constant negotiation of social and cultural relations that accommodate difference and accentuate sameness. The earlier such friendships start, the better and many such black/white relations blossom into intimate relations and even marriage. How that happens is the subject of my latest book Leading for Change: race, intimacy and leadership on divided university campuses (Routledge 2015) and my forthcoming book Race, Romance and Reprisal (2016). In other words, the angry voices of a minority do not represent the totality of experiences of interracial friendships among youth in post-apartheid society. The volume of angry noise, however, is out of proportion to the breadth of intimate experiences binding black and white youth.

Still, among the disaffected there are nuances in these bouts of anger. Some believe these interracial friendships carry no value and should be stopped. Others castigate whites for entering these friendships on social and cultural terms which favour them, the privileged: to hell with these kinds of friendships. The complaint goes something like this—

“We have to speak their language and suppress our own; they make no effort to learn our languages. We are tired of smiling in friendships which actually demean us, make us feel less. We become like them, except white on the outside even though our essence, the inside, remains black. We are tired of living these two lives, the one representing our poor mothers and families, the other cavorting with whites in the realm of privilege. We are coconuts no more.”

What does this mean? It is important, first of all, to pay attention to this strain of disaffection among black youth. In one sense, it is nothing new. Some time ago Ellis Close made similar points in The Rage of the Privileged Class wherein he described the experiences of African Americans inside the hostile world of corporate America. Notes Close,

“[S]enior corporate executives and senior partners in law firms are … expected to conform to a certain image. And though their positions may not require golden hair and blue eyes, they do require the ability to look like–and be accepted as–the ultimate authority

In other words, even though black students (or executives) more and more enjoy access to white organisations, their presence and progress requires conforming with white standards of achievement. Being physically present, for those who rage, is not enough; being recognised and accepted on their own terms, matters. Close’s problem in capitalist America is much more difficult to resolve than those of the newly angry in South Africa—he lives in a country where black people are a minority and no longer the most important minority in a nation where the growth in the Latino population has recast politics and economics on that side of the Atlantic. And for Close it is about being successful within the capital accumulation model of neoliberal America; for many black South Africans it is about equity, opportunity and recognition.

The problem of social, cultural and intellectual recognition and not only physical access is a common lament expressed very powerfully in segments of student life on the former white campuses in South Africa. Put bluntly, the lament could be described as “we are physically present but in every other way invisible—socially, culturally, intellectually, materially and even symbolically.” In other words, simply adding more black professors to the Senate or broadening the curriculum to include African Studies (or perspectives) or commissioning more studies on institutional culture, will not only do little to pacify this rage; it could make matters worse.

In this respect it is important to distinguish patterns of institutional recalcitrance among different South African universities. Some of the former white Afrikaans universities still have a major problem with the first order of business, and that is physical access. In this respect Stellenbosch University and the Potchefstroom Campus of North West University find themselves in the eye of the transformation storm.

The Open Stellies Movement was long overdue and the Luister video-documentary is merely the start of what will become an extended campaign to open-up undergraduate studies to many more African students. In this respect it is worth noting that OSM is a much better organised and more mature student organisation than RFM at UCT and its spin-off moment at Rhodes University; it is therefore likely to sustain itself through constructive engagements with the university leadership for some time to come.

It is nevertheless sad that the transformation of this otherwise top academic university was held back by decades-old, refractory language crusades to “protect Afrikaans” which, whether intentionally or not, had the happy consequence (for many) of keeping the institution predominantly white and especially non-African in its main protectorate, the undergraduate class.

In the same way the ugly and repeated assaults on the first black Vice-Chancellor of the North West University by the white defenders of the Potchefstroom campus is—once all the flimsy excuses are exhausted—nothing more than protecting white dominance in language, culture and demographics on what used to be called by the explosive code-name of the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education.

The white English universities such as Rhodes, UCT and Wits have a different problem—black student numbers have grown steadily in the past two decades of democracy to a comfortable majority in some instances. The usual complaints apply—more black professors, and so on—but the problem in these institutions is more elusive and complex, as any student of transformation among the English would attest. In fact for many researchers, the difficulty is “putting your finger on the problem.” The Vice-Chancellors boldly speak the language of transformation; they have senior colleagues driving these change programmes; their curricula are in many cases open, progressive and critical of their own foundations; there are any number of funded initiatives to recruit older and promote young black scholars. So what’s the problem?

In the first instance, these institutions still convey an overwhelming sense of whiteness from the complexion of the professoriate to the cultural rituals and symbols of everyday life. But there is more: the places impose an English whiteness on newcomers that is hard to describe. So over the years I have asked my most accomplished black scholars at UCT why they were so angry. The answer was the same time and again, normally conveyed with deep emotion: “It’s the way they make you feel.” Since I have been at the receiving end of a few of those withering white putdowns by prominent UCT academics, I know exactly how that must feel if you lived inside that institutional culture day after day at the mercy of a professor, head of department or dean.

At the Afrikaans universities the racism is often blatant; you see it coming as in the Nazi salute on the Potchefstroom campus or the urinating into food for black workers on the UFS campus or the Blackface episodes on the University of Pretoria and Stellenbosch campuses. At the English universities the racism is much more subtle. It is the snub in the hallway; the put-down remark about your promotion; the sense of cultural superiority; the clipped, foreign-sounding accent; the Oxbridge referencing; the biting criticism of your manuscript; the coldness in relationships; the patronising comment; the talk behind your back; the fear of reprisal if you speak out; the weak-wristed handshake; the inability to hug or deliver an unconditional compliment; and the constant reminder that you are not part of the club, literally.

It is for this reason that black academics at places like UCT quickly found common cause with the RFM students even if they disagreed with their tactics; for many years they too had waited to exhale.

That said, at the core of many of the disruptions at the former white English universities is a kind of gangsterism masquerading as progressive politics. It is a vile, in-your-face hooliganism that conjures up the language of radical politics but is, in fact, nothing less than a tsotsi element that one Vice-Chancellor called this behaviour. By conflating the comtsotsi element with the progressive element in scholarship or journalism or everyday observation, we give recognition to bad behaviour and undermine the seeds of what could become a very powerful movement in student protests. This is a crucial point.

Where does this hooligan behaviour come from—that beats up other students, violently disrupts university meetings, assaults members of staff, spews forth anti-Semitic and anti-white froth, and gratuitously attacks the dignity and integrity of leaders? There is no question that the on-campus behaviour seeks to mimic the off-campus behaviour of political parties, to begin with. The ongoing fracas in Parliament, broadcast for all to see, is the model on which some of these youth base their on-campus tactics. Often the students involved in the more violent confrontations come from political movements and community contexts where intellectual disagreement and tough debates are not enough—it must escalate into physical confrontation and verbal abuse.

Needless to say, this is worrying in terms of our country’s future. If the next generation of leaders resolve their conflicts through hate speech and violence, we sustain the very conditions that apartheid and colonialism embedded in our society. The role of leadership is to change that behaviour and the role of education is to tame those passions. The failure to discipline this particular version of the angry mob is a failure of education and leadership at home, in schools, in community organisations and in our universities.

But to simply dismiss all of this violent rage as irrational is not very helpful either in its resolution. The new anger feeds off unresolved inequalities in school and society. The angry student is hungry on campus, struggling to find finances for tuition, hustles to secure cheap accommodation, and then with a dodgy quality of school education that reflects in his poor academic results, finds himself in a laboratory or lecture hall where whites are in charge and continues therefore to make a direct connection between his miserable state and the race of the lecturer. In former white institutions with their cold, clinical and alienating institutional cultures which fail to recognise this student and his estrangement, fire and oil meet.

In this tight and twisted bundle of raw emotions, what appears as anger is not always clearly articulated and there is no particular enemy, so everyone is—the Vice-Chancellors, the white university, white staff, all whites, unsympathetic blacks etc.

The political philosophy of the critique is similarly dense and confusing, ranging from a broad pan-Africanism to a narrow black ethnic nationalism with more than a hint of a poisonous anti-white racism. And the language of critique is straight out of an introductory social science course, repeatedly referencing harm done to “the black body”—for example, by being a minority in a largely white literary festival—with a fair amount of exaggeration, to put it mildly. Simply to go to classes at Rhodes or UCT is to “subject the black body” to an unrelenting oppression.

All kinds of figures are therefore invoked in these angry flashes from Biko to Fanon to Cornell West but unsurprisingly not King or Ghandi or Mandela. If Mandela gets any mention at all, it is as a sell-out, the man who led South Africa into a soft transition that left white privilege undisturbed and black poverty undiminished. It is this instant re-interpretation, and dismissal, of Nelson Mandela that is the most marked feature of the new anger.

There is no ideology or memory or history here, only a hodge podge of pro-black/anti-white sentiment on the tip of an angry tongue that finds expression in the lashing out at public gatherings and memorial lectures, in newspaper columns of especially the Sunday Independent though with more balance in City Press, and in the occasional book production.

It is an anger that is particularly vicious of its critics. In its milder forms of dismissal the critics are old, representing a bygone generation that simply by virtue of age is out of touch and irrelevant to the struggles of youth. They should allow the space for political articulation to be occupied by those who really know, the newly angry young activists. In its harsher version, the older critics of the new anger are trounced as everything from right-wing reactionaries to white-loving establishment figures who have done nothing to advance black professors in the academy or decolonise the curriculum or change institutional cultures.

It is worth repeating that what we are witnessing at the moment is a segmented anger, by which I mean not all universities are affected by the new disaffection and that English and Afrikaans universities are affected differently. For example, none of this upsurge of anger has expressed itself in the bureaucratic solidity of the University of Pretoria; it has been for the most part the experience of the old English universities—UCT, Wits and Rhodes. Despite efforts to make RFM a movement rather than an English moment—such as evidenced in the letters from UCT student leaders to SRC leaders on all campuses—the new anger as described has not ventured beyond these privileged sites.

None of this particular brand of criticism, for example, has emerged at the historically black universities where, in some instances, such as TUT, the old struggles of funding access rolls over with predictable regularity in the form of violent protests, and nothing has happened at places like the University of Venda or in institutions where simply meeting the monthly salary bill is the immediate preoccupation.

These basic struggles are light years removed from the new anger that drives the transformation moment at the liberal English universities or that seeks to repel the crude racism and underrepresentation of black youth in the conservative Afrikaans universities.

So in summary, campus struggles are not the same from the English to the Afrikaans to the historically black universities; and the genuine moments of student activism for either access or equity or transformation are often undercut but a destructive violence that threaten to keep our universities in states of turmoil well into the foreseeable future with serious consequences for the academic project.

So what of the future?

There must be a reason the President would set aside time to meet with executive leadership of university councils and university principals. It must be awareness of the fact that if this turmoil continues all universities are at risk. Just as investors do not invest their money in chronically unstable societies, so too top academics do not spend their time on serially disruptive campuses. Parents who have choices send their children elsewhere for higher education, including out of the country, leaving behind moribund institutions where the only students and academics left are those who cannot move. Major foundations and private sector funders of universities and their projects change their investment destinations. The government then becomes involved in trying to shore up these universities and to take control of governance and even management under crisis conditions.

A very good example of how promising universities decline slowly over time as a result of chronic instability is the University of Zimbabwe—they met their “transformation” targets quickly, one could say, but they failed to sustain and build the kind of cultural and intellectual capital necessary for creating top class African universities.

These problems are not insoluble. They can be solved through a different kind of leadership than what the present offers at all levels of our society including government and universities. The students are not the problem; it is how we lead that matters.

In this respect, the white English universities received a necessary wake-up call from their academic smugness reinforced by overseas ranking systems that did not measure institutions on equally important metrics such as social justice and racial integration. The historically Afrikaans universities now realise that they can no longer use this beautiful language as a bulwark against the penetration of black African students in their undergraduate classes—which is the real “site of struggle” in this class of universities.

An important question remains—will the leadership of top universities like Stellenbosch and UCT truly accelerate the deep transformation of their institutions in ways that satisfy the demands of justice? If the leadership of these institutions retreat into their pre-RMF or pre-OSM slumbers, those universities themselves—including councils and senates—threaten the future stability and academic standing of higher education in South Africa. To blame the students, in this case, would be disingenuous.

Which raises the question of the historically black universities in this equation. Here we need to be frank. There has to be a radical new financing model that effectively makes university education free and accessible to all poor students for purposes of undergraduate studies. Until this happens, the chronic violence that keeps so many campuses in turmoil is not going to go away; it is as simple as that. To resolve this matter, governmental leadership is paramount. Simply appealing to students to not be violent, given our history, is not going to make this problem go away. The longer government takes to resolve this matter, the longer black universities will remain mired in sometimes very violent protest cultures.

In the meantime, the historically black universities need courageous leaders who with government support can steer back these institutions into stability so that students are no longer short-changed in the depth and quality of training required for their degrees. Some of these universities are under threat of losing accreditation for some of their qualifications in part a result of the lack of concentrated focus on the academic project. This means disrupting some of the regressive union ‘activism’ on these campuses which with singe-minded salary agendas push universities into financial ruin by holding the academic project and academic leaders to ransom. It also means appointing leaders who can manage with strong, disciplined management teams which can turn around endemic crises within these universities. It means recruiting leaders with political savvy who can anticipate and redirect crises towards positive resolution of staff and student demands.

And it means finding leaders who can win the confidence of students and student leaders by demonstrating through personal example and visible actions that they have gone to the wire for students when it comes to financial, academic and emotional support. Then, and only then, is it possible to require a discipline of student organisation and politics—when an ethic of care and compassion is thread through the management of everyday student life.

Let me say this clearly: in the absence of solving the leadership problem in these universities large injections of state bail-out funding would be a waste of official resources that could have been deployed elsewhere.

If we fail to do this, the South African universities will remain a mirror of the national school system—a small, elite group of functioning institutions which produce the top graduates in the system and a large, chronically dysfunctional set of institutions which remain in a state of stable crisis, surviving from one month to the next without being able to give attention to the academic project. In time, that small elite group of universities will also unthread under the constant stress of student and staff and governmental demands, until they too lose their shine in the international academy and become simply part of an all too familiar post-colonial tale.

It is this felt sense of a present past that Stephen Ellis wrote about and whose warnings we dare not ignore when it comes to the continuities that mark destructive student behaviours on campuses then and now.

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“Dear Students” – A Letter from Jonathan Jansen about Student Protest Actions at the UFS

How to Fix South Africa's SchoolsWe Need to ActVice-chancellor and rector of the University of the Free State Jonathan Jansen, author of We Need to Act and co-author of How to Fix South Africa’s Schools: Lessons from Schools that Work, has released a statement in the form of a letter to his students in response to the ongoing #FeesMustFall protests.

“I wish to make clear that the senior leadership of the University of the Free State understands and supports the demands from students and their leaders that higher education be accessible to all students, especially the poor,” Jansen writes. He notes the ways in which staff have been dedicated to students’ well-being and says that they, as UFS leadership, will continue to engage with student leadership on this important matter.

However, Jansen condemns the “violence, intimidation and threats from the small group of protesting students” and calls for mutual respect as the university works towards creating a better future for all.

Read the letter:

Dear Students

Student protest action at the University of the Free State

I wish to make clear that the senior leadership of the University of the Free State understands and supports the demands from students and their leaders that higher education be accessible to all students, especially the poor. For the past six years we have done everything in our power to meet that commitment to students who are academically talented, but simply cannot afford to pay; that is why our tuition fees remain among the lowest in the country. Our efforts to raise private funding have enabled thousands more students to study at the UFS than would have been possible on the government subsidy only. Whether it is the Staff Fund contributions (yes, our staff empty their pockets to support student fees) or the No Student Hungry (NSH) bursary programme (yes, we raise funds for food bursaries), we will continue our drive to fund students who cannot afford higher education. Let me repeat, no student with a solid academic record will be denied access to studies simply because they cannot pay.

Now, to the matter at hand. There is a national demand from students for a 0% fee increment for 2016. The Minister’s response, after consultation with stakeholders, was that universities should cap their 2016 fee increases at 6%. Despite this initiative from government, the protests continue on virtually all campuses across South Africa for the ‘no fee’ increase.

Our response, as the UFS leadership, is to continue engaging the SRC as the chosen leadership of our students in trying to negotiate a settlement on the matter. We have worked around the clock to be available to student leaders to find some resolution on 2016 fees. While we understand the demands of students, as university leaders, we can only work with the government subsidy we receive. Any agreement reached, cannot and must not place the university at academic and financial risk in its ability to deliver public higher education to the country – if that happens, everybody loses. Still, no matter what happens in terms of the response from government, the leadership door at the UFS remains open to finding a mutually acceptable solution to all parties in these deliberations.

Students, we are deeply concerned by the violence, intimidation and threats from the small group of protesting students. These dangerous and demeaning behaviours, like disrupting classes and verbally abusing students and staff, undermine the legitimate quest of students for relief concerning tuition fees. Such behaviour is completely unacceptable and the university will take action where required. We must also remember that we have an obligation to all 30 000 students whose right to learn without fear of violence and intimidation must be respected.

In conclusion, over the past few years we have worked hard to build a culture of mutual respect and embrace as we worked through some very difficult challenges on campus. You would have noticed that the university leadership responded quickly and sympathetically to reason and respect in difficult situations of rage and remonstration. A minority of students, with some outsiders, have come onto the campus to break down that culture in which, while we might disagree, we continue to work on the basis of mutual respect. I urge all students that, as we engage of this important problem of enabling greater access to higher education, we continue to remain true to the core values of our Human Project.

Best Regards

Prof Jonathan Jansen
Vice-Chancellor and Rector
University of the Free State

In a column for Rand Daily Mail yesterday, Jansen reflected on the elements which are often missing from debates surrounding university fees.

“As more and more universities scramble to survive, classes become overcrowded to save on lecturing costs, audio-visual equipment cannot be fixed on time, roofs in residences collapse with winter rains and the best lecturers start to ponder a job in the private sector where they can earn much more money for far less hassle,” the rector writes.

Read the article, which also addresses the public humiliation of university leaders that’s happening more and more:

We made a promise we cannot keep — that once apartheid ended no student would be denied access to education. A 19-year-old from Tembisa or Thohoyandou knows a degree from a good university is her one shot at escaping poverty, a solid degree from a good university. The stakes are high.

The government has increased escalated funding for student tuition but it is still not enough as the National Financial Aid Scheme has long exhausted its allocation from the Treasury. Of course students hustle to put together the requisite finances, from bank loans to meagre savings to a working uncle’s small contribution; but they try. A fee increase sometimes becomes that bridge too far.

What is often missing in these necessary debates is the simple fact that universities are themselves under enormous pressure to keep the lights on, meet the salary bill, maintain old buildings, update laboratory equipment, build more residences, hire more professors, increase academic support for students who are under-prepared by the school system, and set aside from their its own resources more bursary funds for poor students.

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Jonathan Jansen: Providing Free Higher Education for Poor Students is a Matter of Great Moral Urgency

How to Fix South Africa's SchoolsWe Need to ActJonathan Jansen, University of the Free State vice-chancellor and rector, has written a column for The Times commenting on the ANC’s position with respect to education.

Jansen talks about the ANC National General Council and what they had to say about education in relation to what is currently happening in South African schools. He discusses the plight of rural schools, the desperate need for effective education inspectors, the need for teachers to be at school for a full working day and the recent rumblings about introducing Mandarin as a school subject.

Commenting that “what is not said by a political party is often more important than what is said”, Jansen laments the ruling party’s silence regarding tertiary students’ high fees. This is an issue that has been dramatically brought to the fore by the #WitsFeesMustFall protests at Wits University this week.

Read the article:

It is a real pity that the ANC’s National General Council did not take a strong, unequivocal position on free higher education for the poor. This must be a commitment or the cycles of discontent and violence at some universities will continue to plague campuses.

Of course, this will require re-ordering priorities in government spending but nothing is more important than long-term investments in human capital, especially for those who need it most – talented young people from the poorest families. The provision of free higher education for such students is no longer only a policy issue but a matter of great moral urgency.

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