Institutions claim to be “African” yet Black foreigners experience discrimination, roundtable hears
South African universities, despite positioning themselves as inclusive and engaged African institutions in a global world, are failing to deal decisively with the growing issue of academic xenophobia, an online debate heard this week.
The debate, the ninth Presidential Roundtable webinar, hosted by the Academy of Science of South Africa, was held on 24 November. Themed “The threat of academic xenophobia to the future of SA universities”, it aimed to find ways to develop progressive employment regimes built on inclusive academic values.
The discussion comes as Assaf is investigating reports of anti-Black xenophobia in South African universities. The investigation, which started in August, is led by Assaf president Jonathan Jansen from Stellenbosch University, who also chaired this week’s roundtable.
Precious Simba, an education professor also from Stellenbosch, told the roundtable that a quick internet search of 15 public South African universities had given her an impression of institutions that are accommodating to foreign academics, positioning themselves as ‘African’.
But, she said, the reality across the sector is different. “In day-to-day operations, there seems to be a consistent effort to push out African foreign national academics…There is some hypocrisy that lies there.”
She also noted that evidence suggests local Black academics seemed to be preferred to African foreign national ones. “I feel like what is happening in the universities is a hierarchisation of the ‘better Black’. So there is an inclusion of Black people in certain parts of the university. But even in that inclusion, there is a Black person that the labour policies preferred, and by doing so we start seeing the pushing out and exclusion of foreign nationals."
South African anger
Evance Kalula, a Zambia-born law professor based at the University of Cape Town, said the complex history of South Africa has turned its citizens into angry people, and he said this anger is unfortunately spilling over into the universities, where foreigners are seen as blocking space for locals.
“You South Africans are angry people. You are angry against each other and foreigners, but the anger that you people bear is also very self-destructive,” he said.
Jansen concluded that colleagues in academia should remember that an institution should by its nature be a place of non-discrimination.
“Universities don’t appoint on a nativeness policy. If that be the case, then we might as well be a church, mosque or synagogue," he said.