Colonial legacies and the decolonisation discourse in post-apartheid South Africa : a reflective analysis of student activism in Higher Education

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 9
  • SDG 4
  • Abstract:

    This article presents a wide range of factors that arguably underwrite South Africa’s higher education institutions’ governance crisis. It highlights overcrowding, infrastructure deficiencies in the form of inadequate accommodation, shortfalls in knowledge resources such as libraries as well as Information and Communication Technology, inequitable access, racial inequality and weak funding mechanisms as the primary causes of violent student protests. Since 1994 attempts towards transformation of the South African education system within the developmental state approach continued under complex socio-economic, political and legal contexts. In spite of the ambitious new policy framework that espouses progressive quality education for all citizens, evidence shows that the state has demonstrated its limitations in mobilising requisite operational resources and creating the conducive settings to fulfil this mandate in higher education. Currently, universities are experiencing violent and disruptive student protests, reminiscent of the predemocratic student uprisings of the 1970s and 1980s. This trend has the potential to erode institutional viability due to vandalism and related forms of insurgencies in the affected universities. Elitist commentaries have highlighted the contradistinction of government’s grand transformational intentions against the material conditions that obtain at the various campuses in South African universities. This article argues that, while there could be several major limitations towards effective transformation, the absence of a comprehensive and sustainable systems-level policy framework is paramount. This has led to piece-meal isolationist implementation of institutional strategic initiatives that, in most instances, have continued to harbour remnants of an inequitable apartheid education system. The article concedes that recurrent collapsed stakeholder negotiations have legitimised untenable circumstances of heavy-handedness on the part of security agents and student violence. Notwithstanding its starting point, it turns to corroborate the notion of stakeholder mandates and façade transformation as the primary governance conundrums for South Africa’s higher education institutions.