From February 1 through May 1, Nu Omicron–the honor society of the School of Criminal Justice–will be collecting items to donate to the House of Ruth Maryland, recognized as one of the nation’s most comprehensive domestic violence centers. The campus drop-off location for donations is in the Liberal Arts and Policy Building, Room 538. For more information about this collection drive, contact Vickie Sneed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Johannes (Jannie) Botes
(This article was originally written for publication in the University System of Maryland’s The Faculty Voice.)
In the fall of 2014, I was honored to receive a Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program (CADFP) award and spent four summer months in South Africa at the beginning of 2015. I obtained a sabbatical from the University of Baltimore (UB) while teaching at the University of Stellenbosch, my alma mater. I was also doing some research on South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP) that is supposed to remedy a host of economic and societal problems by 2030.
Before discussing my Fellowship experience in South Africa, I would like to share some more detail about the CADFP, because it was created based on some very interesting research by Dr. Paul Tyambe Zaleza, a professor of African-American studies and history at Loyola Marymount University, which was published as a report for the Carnegie Corporation of New York. His research was based on the nature and dynamics of the engagement of the African academic diasporas in the United States and Canada. This research–published in 2013–found that between 20,000-25,000 African-born academics are faculty members in American colleges and universities.
The CADFP was created with a goal of turning the continent’s “brain drain” into “brain circulation” by funding 100 African-born scholars currently based in the United States and Canada to collaborate with host universities in Africa on teaching, curriculum building, research, graduate training, and mentoring, over a two year period. Public and private higher education institutions in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Uganda were invited to submit project requests and interested African-born scholars in the US and Canada were invited to apply for the CADFP. The program is managed by the Institute of International Education (IIE), in partnership with Quinnipiac University and funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. I was also pleased to note on the website for this program that it is now being extended beyond the original three rounds of applications.
I left South Africa in 1987, when the racial segregation policy of ‘apartheid’ was still in full swing. At that time, I was working for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) as a television producer and anchor, and was removed from live on-air broadcasting in 1986 due to critical questions I raised about apartheid and the future of South Africa. I received a Fulbright Scholarship to study in the US and ended up at George Mason University, in what became the first Ph.D. class of ten people, at the then Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR). I was therefore an example of what Dr. Zaleza spelled out in his Carnegie report, as being part of the brain drain from Africa. Hence, I was delighted to return to Stellenbosch, potentially to be part of what he called a “brain gain” and “brain mobility.” So beginning in February of 2015, I replaced Professor Pierre du Toit, who was on a pre-retirement sabbatical, and taught a course titled Ethnic and Cultural Factors in Conflict, in addition to teaching negotiation seminars and advising students on potential overseas study.
Reflecting on South Africa
Returning to South Africa for four months–much longer than I was ever able to visit the country and my hometown over nearly three decades–was in some ways quite emotional and, in other ways, disconcerting. It is now 25 years since Nelson Mandela was released from jail in 1990, and 21 years since Mandela became the President of South Africa and the new South Africa was born. Mandela’s expertise in political peace-building among the various population groups of South Africa is sadly not evident among the current political leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) under President Zuma. Mandela will be remembered with admiration for his cross-cultural encounters. To name two examples: he met with the wives of former apartheid leaders; and he stepped on the World Cup rugby field with a Springbok jersey when South Africa was in the 1995 finals (as portrayed in the film “Invictus” with Matt Damon, and Morgan Freeman, playing Mandela). The Springbok (Springbuck), a deer, is the national emblem of the South Africa Rugby Union, and by identifying with this icon and not insisting on replacing it shortly after the new South Africa was created, Mandela was making this symbol inclusive and part of all of South Africa, for which he was widely hailed.
The alarming part of the trip was that it is clear that after 20 plus years of the new South Africa, Mandela’s vision of a “rainbow nation,” a coalition between the four racial and ethnic groups of South Africa (Black, Colored, Indian and White) is now endangered by a set of quite worrisome problems. The unemployment rate in South Africa is now 25%, and by some estimates it is unofficially closer to 40%. Youth unemployment is especially troublesome and, more so, for the so-called “born free” generation, people born after the first fully democratic elections in 1994, who are by some estimates close to 40% of the population. In a just published book, What If There Were No Whites in South Africa?, South African newspaper editor, Ferial Haffajee, argues that black South Africans, and especially black “born frees” are obsessed with whiteness and white privilege. She debunks the many myths and distorted notions concerning white dominance and power, including a false consciousness that whites and blacks perceive their numbers as roughly equal. These distorted narratives are contradicted by the statistical evidence, in that whites are a declining, small minority, which was 10.9% of the population in 1996, and shrank to 8.4% in 2014.
During my stay, South Africa was also severely criticized by other African countries for xenophobic attacks on foreigners in Durban and Johannesburg, leading to wider attacks on foreigners in the country; this is in part another sign of economic stress. After 1994, South Africa became a place of refuge from political and economic hardships in other African countries. For example, online resources suggest that there are more than one million Zimbabweans who fled to South Africa, because the unemployment rate in Zimbabwe is speculated to be in excess of 50% (and by some estimates as high as 80%). What is quite troubling is that after two decades the peacemaking efforts in a number of African countries, including South Africa, Mozambique, Burundi and Zimbabwe, are faltering; the outlier here is Namibia.
Violent crime is endemic in South Africa, and more and more people are pointing to political corruption as a problem that will eventually lead to violence between the economic “have and have nots.” On December 10th, the US Institute of Peace, in conjunction with the US State Department, held a discussion on “rallying the world against corruption” and pointed out that endemic corruption undermines the rule of law and weakens legitimate government institutions. In 2013, the then Minister of National Planning in South Africa, Trevor Manuel, identified corruption as the biggest threat to the National Development Plan, which is supposedly designed to cure South Africa of its socio-economic ills. South Africa is also no longer the continent’s largest economy (Nigeria is). Two rating agencies have recently cut South Africa’s debt to the lowest investment grade, which endangers the country of slipping into a junk bond rating. In fairness to the current regime, the structural inequalities in South Africa run deep and the expectations associated with liberation were so high that a certain degree of disappointment and social turmoil would have set in by now, regardless of the political leadership in charge of the country.
Let me return to Stellenbosch and my experience teaching at the University. The town is picturesque, comprised of old Cape Dutch architecture surrounded by mountains in the heart of the wine industry in South Africa, and located about 30 miles from Cape Town, where Table Mountain was named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World in 2012. The University does not have a program related to conflict, as such, and I was teaching in the Political Science Department. I taught my course, as I do at the University of Baltimore, in a way that expects a lot of participation and presentations from the graduate students. I was on the whole impressed with their effort and enthusiasm, including the depth of our discussions. It was a culturally diverse and academically strong group of students; the only South African ethnic group not represented was Indian South Africans. Notably, one of my students, William Clayton, was awarded the prestigious South Africa Washington International Programme scholarship, which consists of leadership seminars, a community service project, and a two month internship in Washington, DC.
South Africa was one of the case studies in this course on ethnic and racial conflict. As someone who studied at the University of Stellenbosch in the 1970s, one of the most rewarding aspects of the teaching was to learn from these students, who are mostly in their twenties, how they perceived the current South Africa and the changes that have occurred in the country over the past 25 years. In turn, they wanted to know how South Africa is perceived in the world, and were disappointed to find out that what happens in South Africa is no longer automatically world news, especially now that religious conflict has focused attentions elsewhere. For example, the recent student unrest that led to the University of Stellenbosch changing its language policy, was not world news, except for the fact that it made the news in England.
Other than Cape Town, Stellenbosch is the oldest European settlement in the Western Cape (settled in 1679, about the same time as the American colonies) and was named after a Dutch governor, Simon van der Stel. For anti-apartheid activists, Stellenbosch was perceived as an enclave protecting the interests of the architects of apartheid, and by extension, the language of Afrikaans (a language that developed out of the original Dutch-speaking settlers) was perceived as the language of the oppressor. English was already the language of instruction at the graduate level at Stellenbosch, but it was the only remaining Afrikaans university in South Africa that had Afrikaans at the undergraduate level with English spoken summaries or English overhead summaries on a projector. After a year of student protests around this topic, the University announced recently that all undergraduate courses will be offered in both languages in the new academic year. While I was teaching at Stellenbosch, Cape Town University succumbed to student protests and removed the statue of Cecil John Rhodes (a British colonialist and a core member of the British Imperial history in South Africa). Again, my students were surprised that such incidents are no longer news beyond Britain, and perhaps The Netherlands, which both have historical ties to South Africa.
The area of education in South Africa has many challenges, especially at the secondary and high school stages, where a majority of schools, according to observers, produce dismal results that spell disaster for the future. Recently, the universities went through a period of major protests, one of which was called “Fees Must Fall.” While promising free education at the university level for years, the ANC government actually increased student tuition for 2016, which lead to such disturbances, that some universities had to push back the end of year exams to the beginning of 2016.
Student and faculty at universities, as indeed the whole country, also suffer from other infrastructure challenges. For example, soon after I arrived at the University, I had the scary experience of standing in the copy room in the middle of the building when there was a total power outage. After a minute of struggling to get back to my office, the lights went on and I was later told that the University and so many other institutions in the country have had to create their own backup power systems. The government was informed under the prior administration of President Thabo Mbeki that the country is outgrowing its supply of electricity, and nothing was done to increase generation capacity until it was too late. So while I was in the town, the so-called ‘load shedding’ twice weekly would interfere with academic activities, as well as lead to traffic congestion.
A final note, that might be interesting to university faculty members in the US, is that South Africa’s Department of Higher Education has a special subsidy fund for universities from which all peer reviewed research is funded, including articles, books, and also Master and Doctoral theses; additionally, some researchers fund their work from private sources and even overseas foundations. Approximately 25% of the University of Stellenbosch’s total budget is in this way funded by the state. Each university in the country has its own policy as to which degree an article or book or patent rights are paid out to the individual, who must use the funds for research purposes and not to cover personal expenditures.
My research on the National Development Plan will focus on what is ironically the last item spelled out in the document itself – namely, the improvement of race relations in South Africa. I am grateful for the opportunity provided by the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program and the University of Baltimore to make this possible. Based on my experience, I am hopeful that this program will indeed have benefits to universities in Africa and will inspire Africans to contribute to their countries of origin.
Learn more about Prof. Botes.