LETTER: Academic the victim of ‘black purge’

After 23 years of a democratic and non-racial South Africa, the institutions of higher learning are still gravely and blatantly trudging in the wake of transformation.

The academic arena is still one-sided and influenced by a single segment of race, the white. University professoriate and management are overwhelmingly white, and thus progressing the leviathan of white supremacy and its modus operandi.

This institutional defect is residual and a remnant of the apartheid system, and has to be brutally done away with.

The behemoth is progressive and needs to be brought to a halt.

Twenty-three years after the dawn of the democratic dispensation, universities such as Nelson Mandela University are still cited as having the highest white professoriate in the country, at 84.7% (the Mail and Guardian last year).

In the same year, the Council on Higher Education released a publication titled South African Higher Education Reviewed: Two Decades of Democracy, which said statistics on the profile of academic staff showed the situation was not yet reflective of the demographics of the country.

What this translates then is there is an urgent need for transformation.

However, such transformation is near impossible to be realised in the light of what could be called the black purge, which is merely the systematic removal of black academics to make way for whites in institutions of higher learning.

In recent years, Nelson Mandela University has witnessed a total onslaught being waged against black academics, professors, doctors and associate lecturers alike.

This exodus of black academics from the institution can be attributed to the belligerence and stubbornness of those not wanting to move towards a transformed institution, which thus has led and still leads to an exodus of black academics.

This perversely persistent skewed institutional culture manifests itself in the black purge.

The recent abrupt departure of the executive dean of the faculty of business and economics sciences, Dr Ismail Lagardien, is one among many departures of black academics either coerced and/or forced to resign.

Progressive academics have also suffered a similar fate as Lagardien.

This black purge is perpetuated by agents and defenders of white supremacy, some of whom reside in ivory towers amassing authoritative power to hire and fire as they please.

Lagardien, a pro-transformation activist, has fallen victim to a vicious axe of white supremacy at Nelson Mandela University (what an irony).

We remember him for his unwavering support for black students within the faculty of business and economic sciences.

Prior to his assumption of duties as an executive dean in April last year, black cleaners were allegedly prohibited from using the elevators at the Second Avenue Campus, but rather were forced to use the stairs.

Such apartheid-like and tendentious tendencies were changed as soon as he assumed leadership of the Second Avenue Campus and the faculty.

He has spoken boldly against the ill-treatment of African women, as being invisible within the university.

This is a pro-transformation academic bold enough to challenge the so-called white supremacy and system in this university.

The agents of transformation have indeed received a devastating blow by the grievous news of your departure, Dr Lagardien.

This recent purge is a confirmation that the transformation discourse is an end to itself for the talks about talks bore no fruits, but only resulted in regression.

Contrary to the recently published statement that Lagardien leaves the university of “his own accord” , the reality is that he was allegedly coerced to resign.

Our intelligence as students and staff members of the university has really been obliterated and blisteringly undermined by the communication on his resignation.

Why would the university have the audacity to lie to staff members and students?

The answer there is clear: if you are white, you will be defended until the last drop of the institutional blood.

In light of the black purge, one question among many is whether the Nelson Mandela University is honestly and genuinely moving towards an inclusive and transformed university.

It is against this background that as an emerging academic, I declare a clarion call to all black academics to take a stand and unite against such injustice.

Mandela Siyabulela, PhD candidate, department of politics and conflict studies and lecturer in security, peace and reconstruction in the department of development studies, NMU

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