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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


VENTER, Francois. Transformation and the University Sector. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2016, vol.56, n.4-1, pp.946-960. ISSN 2224-7912.

"Transformation" is not defined in parliamentary legislation or the Constitution. Nevertheless, the policy documents of the Government and the ANC bestow immense importance on the notion, which bears significant ideological, political, legal and constitutional implications. The dictionary meaning of transformation suggests change, conversion, modification, etc. The ANC (2012:3) has described its "principal task" as being "to mobilise all strata and classes, including the new social forces born out of our democracy, around the national programme of transformation to build a national democratic society". This choice of terminology is no coincidence, because it is based on the organisation's main strategy known as the "National Democratic Revolution" (NDR). Its essential goals are "the liberation of Africans in particular and Blacks in general from political and socioeconomic bondage" and "liberating the white community from the false ideology of racial superiority and the insecurity attached to oppressing others". The history and thrust of the NDR show that it is uncompromisingly founded upon the tenets of Marxism-Leninism. Although it is hardly politically correct to interrogate the continued communist rhetoric with which the ANC's policy documents are infused, one cannot assume that such rhetoric is merely hollow prolixity. Sentiments supportive of fundamental social and economic change can be found in both the 1993 and 1996 Constitutions. No doubt these noble goals, if realised, could embody cornerstones in the transformation of the complex and conflicted South African society towards a stable citizenry with common expectations for social justice. These are, however, not the goals expressed in the NDR. Legal academic discussion of transformation has not contributed much to the clarification of its meaning. A 1998 publication of Karl Klare, a prominent exponent of Critical Legal Studies, has strongly influenced academic and judicial thinking to understand transformation to be a project aimed at comprehensive social change to be brought about by employing the law to effect wholesale egalitarian social transformation beyond mere reform, stopping just short of revolution. From a brief survey of legislation relating to schools, the fisheries industry and labour relations, it is clear that the legal meaning of transformation remains vague and undefined, causing the courts to be similarly ambiguous when called upon to correlate government policies with constitutional injunctions. Using the same vague and elastic term in ideological statements and in the law, provides politicians with the opportunity to pursue revolutionary goals under a cloak of constitutional propriety. Although ideological transformation is useful to offer unspecified political promises of alleviation of past and present suffering, in reality it has thus far mostly promoted the interests of a relatively small black elite. Most of the electoral supporters of the ANC are poor and support the organisation "because of their material dependence on the ANC-controlled state" (Mbeki 2011:9). It is, however, becoming increasingly clear that the failure to build economic capacity among the growing number of poor South Africans through the predatory exhaustion of the means of a small component of society, renders ideological transformation self-destructive. Undefined transformation of the university sector is the aim of higher education legislation, which is to be specifically enhanced by the amendment bill of 2015, by empowering the Minister to unilaterally prescribe "transformation goals" to universities. Government's approach to higher education has been described as a process of implementing the NDR "to erode university autonomy in the name of 'transformation'" (Jeffery 2014:399). Espousing the termination of Afrikaans as academic language is seldom acknowledged officially, but it is obvious that the protection or promotion of the language is at the very least not considered to be desirable measured against the demands for transformation. Transformation is a rich and malleable concept useful for many purposes, both for selective advancement and retribution. The comprehensively beneficial potential of constitutionally sanctioned transformation has unfortunately been warped by the ANC's ideological conceptualisation of the notion and its subsequent implementation in the practice of the governments of the past two decades. Should the transformation of the university sector continue to be pursued according to this pattern, the future of higher education is bleak. Yet, it is not impossible that the political, economic and social configuration of power may change - if the remaining pockets of excellence in higher education could be saved from the ravages of the NDR, this might lead to a balanced process of transformation in the spirit of the Constitution.

Keywords : Transformation; Constitution; National Democratic Revolution; ideology; Marxism-Leninism; Critical Legal Studies; Constitutional Court; African National Congress; higher education; employment equity; Black economic empowerment; Afrikaans; language policy.

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