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Transforming Society

Securing Rights

Restoring Dignity


09th December 2016

ATTENTION: Editors and Reporters

The South African Human Rights Commission (the Commission) recognises progress made in addressing historical inequalities in our public universities, however, patterns of systemic exclusion, marginalisation and discrimination continue to persist. Over the years, these patterns of systemic exclusion and discrimination have manifested themselves in a number of incidents in our public universities. Incidents such as those at the University of the Free State (UFS) where four black members of the university’s support staff were subjected to inhumane treatment at the hands of white students - commonly referred to as the “Reitz Four” incident.
These, and other concerns relating to transformation to public universities, prompted the Commission to undertake a public hearing to investigate more broadly, the issues regarding transformation at South Africa’s public universities. In particular, the Commission sought to determine whether institutions of higher learning have sufficiently transformed in the last 20 years with regard to race, gender, language, culture, disability and sexual orientation amongst others; and the factors, if any, that have hindered transformation in institutions of higher learning in the last 20 years.

The Commission has concluded the report emanating from this series of public hearings and its findings are contained in a report launched today 9th December 2016. The report has been provided to Justice Heher, the Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training (the Fees Commission), the Minister of Higher Education, the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education in Parliament and other stakeholders.

The Commission recognises that a number of key developments have transpired since the conclusion of the national hearing, including the “Rhodes Must Fall”, “Fees Must Fall”, “Afrikaans Must Fall” and the “Outsourcing Must Fall” protests, and the setting up of the Fees Commission of Inquiry. The Report constitutes a record of the systemic challenges that hinder the attainment of substantive transforming in higher education and therefore constitutes an important tool in assessing progress in the attainment of substantive transformation in higher education. Moreover, the recommendations contained in this report may be used to contribute to the transformation processes currently underway in many of our public universities. For this reason it is hoped that the report will receive due consideration from all stakeholders involved in the transformation project.

It must be noted that whilst the report does refer, albeit in passing, to some of the developments that transpired after the conclusion of the national hearing, the Commission does not deal with these developments in any comprehensive way in this report. Given the nature of these developments and their significance, the Commission shares its findings and recommendations for consideration with the Fees Commission and the Department to enable holistic outcomes to transformation.

In essence, the Report finds that our public universities have not sufficiently transformed in the past 20 years and that discrimination remains prevalent in public universities in South Africa, particularly on the ground of race, gender, disability, and socio-economic class. The Report also finds that despite the relative gains, transformation in the higher education sector has been relatively slow.

In view of these on-going challenges, the Report makes a number of recommendations to stakeholders, which are aimed at accelerating substantive transformation in the sector. Some of these recommendations include calling for collaboration between sectors, students and interest groups to accelerate transformation. In particular the Commission called on the Department of Higher Education (DHET) to take a leading role in developing policies to support the transformation of the higher education system and for it to use its powers to hold universities who fail to transform to account; the DHET has also been requested to develop guidelines on appropriate transformation goals and strategies within the higher education sector.

Issued by the South African Human Rights Commission

The South African Human Rights Commission.

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The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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