Communist education minister rails against ‘old white professors’

South African professors are too old and too white, and the vandalism of colonial-era statues highlighted the need for a frank conversation on race and transformation.

This is according to Higher Education Minister and Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande , who described the continuing uproar over the statues as a “proxy” protest.

The statue of Cecil John Rhodes at the University of Cape Town, which sparked the protests, is finally on its way out. The decision was taken last night at a meeting of the UCT council that was disrupted by protesters. The statue will be moved temporarily, pending a final decision on its fate.

“The statue struggle is a proxy struggle. It’s time we confront the real issues of national reconciliation, transformation and economic empowerment because that is what lies at the heart of this. This is a deeper issue.”

Nzimande touched on the racial transformation of the academic profession, saying academics were too old and too white.

“We are concerned that our academics are ageing. We estimate that the average age of an academic is 55 years. If we don’t do anything about this, in 10 years’ time we will be in serious trouble. We want the majority [of recipients of the bursaries and posts] to be black and women, so that we are also able to confront this challenge that our professoriate is too white for a country like South Africa,” he said.

His department launched the “Staffing South Africa’s Universities Framework” earlier this year, which was aimed at funding junior academic posts and offering bursaries for students to study master’s and PhD courses, including overseas studies.

Yesterday, UKZN vice-chancellor Albert van Jaarsveld agreed that professorships needed to be transformed.

“I believe we need more African and more so African female academics. We need to ask ourselves as universities what we are doing to lubricate the process of transformation and more active transformation, to make sure it happens,” said Van Jaarsveld.

However, like Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Nzimande criticised the vandalism of the statues.

“We can’t destroy our history. Let’s remove them and take them to museums,” Nzimande said.

The call comes as Afrikaner groups yesterday petitioned the king of the Netherlands to step in and save the Jan van Riebeeck statue in Cape Town.

This followed an announcement that the Economic Freedom Fighters party was planning a march where it would call for its removal.

This prompted Action Forum’s Johan Willemse to chain himself to the statue.

“The EFF are hoodlums,” Willemse said.

Provincial co-ordinator for the party Front Nasionaal, Daniel Lotter, said the vandalism of the statues was an attack against the nation, which was brought on by earlier comments by President Jacob Zuma.

“He claimed all SA’s problems started with the arrival of Van Riebeeck,” he said.

Controversial Afrikaans singers Sunette Bridges and Steve Hofmeyr, along with about 100 others, rallied around the Paul Kruger statue in Pretoria yesterday.

Bridges said she was shocked at the inaction of the government in dealing with the illegal defacing of monuments across the country, but the vandalism of Kruger’s statue was the last straw.

Tshwane spokesman Lebogang Matji said: “We will not bow to the EFF nor to Sunette Bridges.” – Times Live