Using or Abusing the TRC? Efforts to Transform a South African University

By Vivian de Klerk.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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This paper describes a particular strategic intervention which was designed to raise awareness about diversity on the campus of a small formerly white South African University campus. Situated against the background of a national imperative to transform and embrace diversity, the paper gives an overview of post-1994 tensions in the country, and highlights the challenges posed to tertiary institutions by the social, cultural, linguistic, religious and racial diversity of South African society. The way institutions respond to the need for diversity is determined by varying interpretations of what the word means, and this paper shows how efforts to speed up and promote change were hampered and hamstrung by a particular academic ‘formation’ which strongly opposed the planned intervention on ideological grounds. The intervention was a University Truth and Reconcilation Commission, modelled on the famous South African TRC of 1994 which enabled people to face their traumatic histories and seek a meeting place, a compromise and a safe place to start afresh. The planned event went ahead anyway, and the paper examines the reasons for the opposition and evaluates the outcomes. Following Muller (1996), the paper argues that in order to advance the cause of social equality and not to retard or undermine it, we need a balance between those with a positive, instrumentalist notion of knowledge (knowledge for) (the doers) and those with a classic view of intellectual work as knowledge of (the critics). With respect to diversity scholarship, the ‘critics’ are positioned on the ‘pure’ (disengaged) intellectual pole of a continuum, while the others are located at the activist, interventionist end: the doers.

Keywords: Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Diversity, South Africa, Tertiary Institution, Awareness Raising, Transformation

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp.27-44. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.214MB).

Dr. Vivian de Klerk

Dean of Students, Dean of Students Division, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa

Professor Vivian de Klerk obtained her BA (Hons) and MA degrees cum laude from Rhodes and a PhD from UCT. She has been Professor and Head of the Department of English Language and Linguistics at Rhodes University since 1991, and has served as Deputy Dean of Humanities (6 years) and University Public Orator (4 years). On a national level, she served as President of the Linguistics Society of Southern Africa from 1995-2002, she was the ministerial appointee on the South African Geographical Names Council till 2006, and she serves on the boards of the South African Academy of Science and the English National Language Body. In addition, she chaired the Provincial Language Council for Eastern Cape Province from 1998 - 2003, and serves on the editorial boards of English World Wide and the Southern African Journal of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, and on the Boards of the Institute for the Study of English in Africa (ISEA), the Dictionary Unit for South African English and the Grahamstown Foundation. She is currently a rated NRF researcher, and research interests over the years have included issues in language and gender, personal naming practices, and language shift on which she has over 80 peer-reviewed articles published in scholarly journals, plus 2 books. Her work on a spoken corpus of Black South African English, explores the linguistic characteristics of this emergent variety of English in South Africa. In 2007 she moved from academia to university administration, and she is now the Dean of Students at Rhodes University, tasked with driving transformation in the institution.

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