Racial desegregation and the institutionalisation of ‘race’ in university governance: The case of the University of Cape Town

15 Apr 2011

The racial desegregation of the student bodies of historically white universities in South Africa has had significant political implications for student politics and university governance. I discuss two key moments in the governance history of the University of Cape Town (UCT) critically. The first involves the experience of racial parallelism in student governance in the late 1980s and early 1990s, making specific reference to the re-conceptualisation of the UCT Students’ Representative Council (SRC) as a ‘NUSAS-SRC’, along with the recognition of the political salience of race in the student body. The second traces the origins of the demographic representivity rule in the university’s statute to student demands for the dissolution of the UCT Council, and its replacement by a Transformation Forum in the early 1990s. I thus show that the recognition of race as politically significant in university governance is the outcome of a deliberate struggle, by students in general, and black students in particular, to de-privatise and politicise any sense of racial/racist marginalisation, and therefore to open up race as a topic for deliberation in the political realm of the post-apartheid university. Thus, the institutionalisation of race has come to serve the interests of the struggle for non-racialism.