I have been asked by several people to respond to the newspaper article by University of Cape Town’s Professor Xolela Mangcu, published in the past Sunday’s City Press. I have hesitated because, well, I think the two people used to illustrate what are otherwise good points can do a far better job than I. There is also what turned to be a surprising thought I expressed in the conversation with one of the people who asked for my views. I was surprised to hear myself saying that researchers, academics, scholars or university-based intellectuals are not obliged to write in newspapers. It is surprising because it is clear to me that the old media and new ones are too important a set of sites for us to ignore; and I have been haranguing my colleagues and fellow-travellers to do precisely the very thing I found myself apparently arguing against. So let me say this: besides the teaching, writing in journals, giving talks, doing books, running university departments and institutes, we need those of us who are moved by concerns for social justice to be on tv, radio, writing in newspapers, blogging, tweeting and interacting on facebook.
But I have decided that a few remarks are necessary, and here they are. City Press needs to up their sub-editing. But that is minor point, though it can be irritating.
The main points of the article as I understand it are that we need black professors and to teach African social theory. Mangcu has made the same points several times over the last year. On both counts, I am completely agreed. However, there are obvious and deeper weaknesses.
First, there is a clear lack of gender-critical awareness in the article. Bluntly stated, we need black women and men in the professoriate of white universities. The struggle to change patriarchal relations and knowledge at universities shouldn’t be collapsed onto that of changing white hegemony, even though the two do interpenetrate each other.
Second, we should be careful not to take Mangcu’s word about the two black women he uses as straw figures. I do not know the full story and context of Graca Machel’s presentation. I have a suspicion she could have been quoted out of context. This is what Mangcu writes of her presentation.
Thanking the academic staff at one of our graduation ceremonies, Machel said: “I know we are criticised that we are not transforming enough. This is an issue we are going to deal with, but more important than who is teaching is who you are teaching and how they come out of this institution. When we see the mixture, in race and gender and class, regardless of who teaches, the product is what we are proud to offer to society. We will walk this journey of transformation but, most importantly, transformation is already happening”.
Who is taught, the goal of teaching, the profile of the student body, all these issues are closely related with who is employed to teach, who gets taught, who runs the universities, the curriculum, hegemonic tradition of the university, and transformation should leave none of them untouched. I want to believe Machel knows. I admit that as it stands, it looks bad. But because I don’t think she is actually against transformation (whilst I may be
) or out to pain Mangcu, I would want to hear her full story and give her a chance to clarify her position. But if Mangcu is faithful to the letter and spirit of her talk, and she is unbending in her view of transformation, I too am pained. Suffer the black students and staff at UCT.
I was present at the dialogue where Kgethi Setati Phakeng gave her presentation. I think Mangcu here is being more than just unfair. The crux of that presentation was that numbers are a necessary but not sufficient criterion for transformation.
Again, then, I think I should say this: we need black (or better still, black-conscious) professors at our universities, especially feminist black-conscious female professors; we need more critical voices that challenge the capitalist white patriarchal hegemony in education and wider society; and we need a united front of antiracist, feminist, decolonial, anticapitalist, queer, black scholars.