South African tertiary institutions are often a place to explore and discuss race relations and dynamics, especially given our history as South Africans. The question that we never really focus our energies on is whether not taking an active stand against racism is unintentionally supportive of it.

Racism in South African universities is alive and kicking. Students experience racism from fellow students and the university staff. Steven Collings and Neeshi Singh-Pillay conducted a study titled “Racism on a South African campus: A survey of students’ experiences and attitudes” to determine the degrees of racism experienced by students in South African tertiary institutions. The study revealed that in a sample size of 433 students, 242 respondents (55.9%) reported that they had experienced a total of 926 racial incidents on campus in the 12-month period reviewed. The majority of these experiences (71%) involved discriminatory behaviours, with members of the university staff being the modal perpetrators (56% of all incidents). Collings and Singh-Pillay write that “although racial experiences elicited a range of negative reactions – becoming upset, fearful, or angry – none of the incidents had been reported to campus authorities”. Respondents’ racial attitudes were found to vary as a function of both gender (males being more likely to endorse racist statements) and race (white students scoring highest on a measure of old-fashioned racism and Indian and white students scoring highest on a measure of modern racism).

Nontsikelelo Loteni, the University of Pretoria’s Transformation Office Director, explained that the University has taken a zero tolerance stance against any form of discrimination, including racism. “We raise awareness to encourage everyone to speak against racism or any form of discrimination”. Loteni went on to indicate that inasmuch as freedom of speech is a human right that any person can exercise, no one can be forced to speak on any issue if they feel they do not want to engage on the matter. The university does however raise awareness and encourage students and staff – irrespective of race – to speak
against racism and discrimination.

Loteni believes in persuading and educating people rather than criticising them. “Criticising a person won’t lead to any change
whereas educating them is an opportunity to persuade them for change”, said Loteni.

Speaking out against racism is somewhat an expectation and duty that we all have, we especially have this expectation of
people with influence to speak out. The university motivates anyone to speak out through a platform called #SpeakOutUP, an organisation that condemns discrimination and helps to create a conducive environment for all. Loteni indicated that the University of Pretoria has an anti-discrimination policy in place and the Transformation Office has measures and platforms that one can turn to, should they encounter any form of discrimination. The Transformation Office will investigate the case after a report is lodged in. Additionally, Loteni put forward that, through UP Enterprises, staff can request to attend diversity training.

To report any case of discrimination, students and staff can contact the Transformation Office Director at Nontsikelelo.loteni@up.ac.za and the Acting Manager of the Office at Sarah.matseke@up.ac.za.

Illustration: Cassandra Eardley


History, Archaeology and Setswana student at the University of Pretoria. An avid reader and lover of news writing and broadcasting. I have a passion for African indigenous languages and history. A prospective world-class journalist and scholar

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