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Patrick Bond moderates UKZN College of Humanities debate on xenophobia and higher ed transformation, 28 July

Roundtable discussion on xenophobia and higher education transformation

The Roundtable discussion panel which focuses on xenophobia and higher education transformation

The College of Humanities in association with the European Union (EU) and the Foundation for Human Rights hosted a roundtable discussion on xenophobia and transformation in higher education.

DVC and Head of the College of Humanities, Professor Cheryl Potgieter, said the discussion was a way to reflect, engage and talk about the interrelatedness of these issues.

The discussion was part of the College’s successful Transformation Public Lecture series which is now in its second year. Due to robust discussions resulting from the lecture series and cognisant of national developments in some institutions of higher learning, Potgieter revealed that the College was in the process of changing the name of the series to the Public Lecture Series for the Decolonisation of Higher Education.

Head of the EU to South Africa, Ambassador Roeland van de Geer, who opened the evening’s proceedings, said the series was a good experience and he hoped it would allow for the continuation of the dialogue for development.

The panel for the roundtable discussion included Dr Federico Settler of UKZN; Mr Hanif Vally of the Foundation for Human Rights; Dr Rama Naidu of the Democracy Development Programme; political activist and independent scholar, Mr Andile Mngxitama; Ms Nazeema Mohamed of the Ministerial Oversight Committee on Transformation in South African Public Universities; Mr Lukhona Mnguni of the University of Edinburgh; Ms Yolisa Mfaise of the South African Human Rights Commission, and moderator, Professor Patrick Bond of UKZN.

The roundtable discussion focused on what the role of higher education is in the transformation for inclusivity, sufficient constitutional and other protections for victims of discrimination, and ‘foreigner’ challenge rights.

Opening the evening’s presentations, Dr Rama Naidu contextualised the recent xenophobia violence by arguing that the full outbreak violence against Africans from outside South Africa was the culmination of ongoing harassment and alienation. He also outlined the response of the Democracy Development Programme (DDP) in combatting the violence.

Naidu criticised authorities for the lack of immediate intervention when the attacks began, citing the lack of police presence, the absence of consultation with local organisational committees and no provision of open spaces for engagement on xenophobia, among other issues. ‘We should create spaces to share stories, to understand.’ Naidu emphasised the need of engaging the complexity of issues involved, analysing the spaces of xenophobia, shortfalls in service delivery and socioeconomic destitution experienced in those spaces.

Both Mr Hanif Vally and Ms Yolisa Mfaise agreed that government was slow to act during the attacks and to combat racism despite the South African Constitution providing sufficient protection for migrants. They discussed the roll-out of the National Action Plan and its comprehensive policy framework to provide early warning systems to prevent further outbreaks of xenophobic attacks. ‘We should look at the root cause of xenophobia to prevent a re-occurrence,’ said Mfaise.

Vally emphasised that the role of civil society was important for combatting xenophobia.
Speaking on Higher Education: Transformation for Inclusivity, Dr Federico Settler focussed on the role and contribution of migration and international education in transforming Higher Education institutions. In particular he argued for a shift away from discourses of xenophobia which imagines migrants as either villains or victims towards discourses that regard migrant and migration as part of the normal order of society.

He cited how academics, students and researchers crossed borders to share knowledge and expertise from South Africa to the world and vice versa. Settler concluded that ‘we need to re-think how we engage with migrants in Higher Education who in part contribute to decolonising knowledge production’.

Mr Andile Mngxitama expressed concern that even higher education establishments had replicated the neo-colonial state form, engaging in ongoing battles between different factions in a bid to capture institutional power on the basis of race and class.

Mngxitama raised the issue of perpetuation of curricula which failed to undergo substantive transformation. He said this entrenched the current lack of academic freedom and institutional autonomy, which merely resulted in superficial transformation.

Ms Nazeema Mohamed said: ‘We are in a democracy crisis and universities are on the compliance route. The middle-class has been co-opted. We have sold out.’

Mr Lukhona Mnguni believed that institutions should self-introspect on the areas of governance, funding opportunities, curriculum development, assessments for both academics and students, and inter-institutional relations.
This will create a basis of fostering inclusivity within the institutions and towards inspiring an integrated non-discriminatory society. Mnguni drew attention to the need for developmental and responsive education, citing inequality as one of the most pressing global challenges that curriculum development and research should respond to, towards building inclusive societies.

The debate sparked conversation around decolonisation of the mind-set with a critical analysis of xenophobia ideologies. Audience members called for more open spaces for honest conversations and deliberations on transformation.

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