South African News

Affirmative Action at South African Universities

Monday, December 13 10:12 pm EST

The principles behind affirmative action are pretty basic: Certain people have been kept from enjoying the bounties of society and as a result we need to have policies to provide redress for those inequities. But of course in order to provide that redress certain people are going to feel as if they are going to be denied what they have earned and they are going to cast blame on the affirmative action policy. Even ardent defenders of affirmative action recognize the potential clash of fairness and even its detractors have to recognize that equality of opportunity is meaningless without a way to make that opportunity realistic for people who have been denied it.

(I’ll reveal my own prejudices here as well — affirmative action detractors also have to get over their sense of entitlement — anyone who does not get into the college of their choice did not miss out by one slot given the nature of admissions yields. To fill a class of 100 at even elite colleges requires many, many hundreds more to be given admission — if you did not get in to that pool you were not 1001st in the admissions process, you were hundreds of slots lower, behind plenty of folks who did not get in because of affirmative action.)

Thus in South Africa affirmative action will continue to be a contentious issue. This debate will flare nowhere more prominently than in university admissions. One of the issues in South Africa, as in the United States is that it tends to recognize race but not class so that an elite group of black beneficiaries emerges while masses of poor blacks remain outside the system looking in. There are few easy answers, but it is hard to take seriously arguments about “merit” in a system where those claiming merit were also the chief beneficiaries of the disparities of apartheid. And yes, those entering college today grew up in the post-apartheid era, but their parents and grandparents created, supported, and upheld that system and it is difficult to take seriously arguments that 1994 represented instant equality whereby all South Africans were on equal ground, an argument that just happens to redound to the benefit of a tiny slice of white South Africans.

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Campus That Apartheid Ruled Faces a Policy Rift

By CELIA W. DUGGER NYTimes, November 22, 2010

CAPE TOWN — The University of Cape Town was once a citadel of white privilege on the majestic slopes of Devil’s Peak. At the height of apartheid, it admitted few black or mixed-race students, and they were barred from campus dormitories, even forbidden to attend medical school postmortems on white corpses.

South Africa’s finest university is now resplendently multiracial. But it is also engaged in a searching debate about just how far affirmative action should go to heal the wounds of an oppressive history, echoing similar conflicts in the United States, where half a dozen states have banned the use of racial preferences in admissions to public universities.

“Are we here because we’re black or are we here because we’re intelligent?” asked Sam Mgobozi, 19, a middle-class black student who attended a first-rate high school in Durban and finds affirmative action offensive, even as he concedes that poor black applicants may still need it.

The University of Cape Town was supposed to have settled this debate last year when its professors — 70 percent of them white men — supported a policy that gave admissions preferences based on apartheid racial categories to black, mixed-race and Indian students.

Instead, unease with the current approach has spilled out over the past year in fierce exchanges on newspaper editorial pages and formal debating platforms. Sixteen years after the political ascent of the black majority, the university’s dilemma resonates across a society conflicted about how best to achieve racial redress, whether in corporate board rooms or classrooms.

Prof. Neville Alexander, a Marxist sociologist who was classified as mixed race under apartheid, has roused the campus debate with the charge that affirmative action betrays the ideals of nonracialism that so many fought and died for during the long struggle against apartheid. Professor Alexander, who spent a decade imprisoned on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, insists that the University of Cape Town, which is public, must resist pressure from the government to use racial benchmarks in determining how well the university is performing. “The government under apartheid did the same and we told them to go to hell,” he said in one standing-room-only campus debate.

Affirmative action’s champion on campus is Max Price, the vice chancellor, who was himself detained as an anti-apartheid student activist in the mid-1970s. Dr. Price, who grew up as a child of white privilege, contends that preferences based on apartheid’s racial classifications provide a means to help those harmed by that system to gain critical educational opportunities.

The university has an openly stated policy of admitting blacks who have substantially lower test scores than whites, but whites still outnumber blacks almost two to one — 45 percent versus 25 percent — among the 20,500 South African students at the university. In South Africa, 79 percent of the population is black and only 9 percent is white.

And even with extensive programs of compensatory instruction on campus to help disadvantaged students, just over half of the black students graduated in five years in recent years, while four out of five whites completed their educations in that time, university statistics show. “We’re getting the best here and the best is struggling,” said a deputy vice chancellor, Crain Soudien.

The situation is even bleaker in higher education across the country. In engineering, law, the sciences and business management, only about a third or fewer of black students manage to get a degree in five years, researchers have found. The country’s efforts to produce black professionals remain crippled by failing public high schools in impoverished rural areas and black townships that the post-apartheid government has proved unable to fix.

Social class is another complicating factor. There are wide disparities in income between white and black South Africans, but also among blacks. The job market rewards graduates of top universities — black and white — while punishing the ill-educated, who are overwhelmingly black.

Students and professors here ask whether children of the emerging black middle and upper classes should continue to get the same break on admissions as impoverished black students. The university is developing nonracial measures of disadvantage — for example, whether applicants’ parents went to a university, or the quality of the high schools the students themselves attended.

But the university now only has enough staff to base its admissions decisions for most students on their scores on a national subject-based examination for high school seniors and their apartheid racial classifications.

Even when reliable proxies for socio-economic disadvantage are developed, Dr. Price contends, race should still be considered. He estimated that about half of the most privileged black applicants would not make the cut without racial preferences. In such a situation, he said, whites would dominate the top ranks of the class, while many disadvantaged blacks struggled with failure, reinforcing stereotypes.

Even in the most prosperous black families, he said, parents often attended inferior schools and their children do not perform as well on the national high school exam as white students whose families have been university educated for generations.

But Prof. André du Toit, who taught generations of students here the history of South African political thought, disagreed, saying the central question about what he called the university’s “elitist version of race-based affirmative action” is whether it will reproduce an elitist society.

In “The Next 25 Years,” a new book of essays on affirmative action by South African and American scholars, Professor du Toit writes that as black applicants increasingly come from the best high schools and well-off families, affirmative action will provide “an ideological justification for privileging established black elite groups, at the expense of the African majority.”

On a recent afternoon, students sat in the sun on stairs that spill down Devil’s Peak from Jameson Hall. They seemed to be a multiracial realization of Mr. Mandela’s rainbow nation — and in many ways they were.

But on a campus where township students worry about whether their families have enough to eat while rich students ride around in new sports cars, many also sat in clusters divided not only by race, but by wealth.

“The coolest kids on the U.C.T. campus are divided in two, the black elite and the white elite,” said Mr. Mgobozi, the son of a corporate sales manager and former high school English teacher.

Like other prosperous black students interviewed here, Mr. Mgobozi is deeply ambivalent about affirmative action. He said he would have gotten in without it, and explains, “Black students work extremely hard just to prove we are here on the same merits as our white counterparts.”

The most eloquent advocates for racial preferences are students from profoundly deprived backgrounds. Without affirmative action, Lwando Mpotulo, 23, would never have been admitted to study for a medical degree here. His mother died when he was 15 and his father was unemployed most of his childhood. He went to high school in Khayelitsha, a sprawling black township of half a million people, 15 miles and a world apart from the wealthy heart of Cape Town. Mr. Mpotulo lived there in a tiny, rundown house that often had no electricity.

His scores on the national high school exam — C’s in science, biology and English, a B in math and an A in Xhosa, his mother tongue — were much lower than the A’s white students are generally required to attain, but an extraordinary achievement in a township where very few qualify for university admission.

Mr. Mpotulo was in Cape Town when he got the news of his admission and, overjoyed, ran to the medical school campus. But his first two years were ones of humiliating failure. “I felt much more smaller,” he said sadly. He had never had a white teacher before and even his high school English teacher had often spoken Xhosa in class.

But the university provided him with extensive, specialized instruction tailored for struggling students and weekly counseling sessions. Mr. Mpotulo also dug deep into himself. He recently sketched the family tree of relatives depending on him.

“These are the people I worry about,” he said gravely. “I have to somehow find success. If I give up, there will literally be no one employed at home.”

Mr. Mpotulo is now confident he will graduate from medical school, though it will take eight years instead of the standard six. He is considering a career in public health. He believes his mother’s death, of a stroke in her 30s, could have been prevented if she had gotten decent medical care.

In his own difficult life experience, he said, the legacy of centuries of white domination lives on.

“I sympathize with a white student, doing very well, who can’t become a student here because of affirmative action,” he said, “but I think it’s an absolutely necessary evil.”

Paying the Price for Apartheid

By PRINCETON N. LYMANPublished: January 5, 2010

Early this year, an appeals court in the United States will decide whether a suit against three companies — two of them American — can go forward charging them with contributing to the crimes of apartheid in South Africa. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status that would allow them, depending on the exact definition accepted, to represent tens of thousands, or even tens of millions, of black South Africans who suffered under the apartheid regime.

There are complex legal questions raised by this suit, brought under the Alien Torts Statute. But perhaps the most fundamental moral and practical question is how the victims of the deep wrongs of apartheid should be compensated. Unfortunately, for these victims, this is not the way.

The issue of reparations has a long and often bitter history. Shortly after the liberation of South Africa and the election of Nelson Mandela as president, South Africa initiated a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission had a mandate to expose the truth of the apartheid crimes, offer amnesty to those who confessed their crimes, and to recommend reparations for the victims. The commission recommended specific cash reparations for those who had suffered most directly, a number that ranged from 20,000 upwards, depending on family members and survivors.

The commission recommended approximately $3,000 per year for six years for each such family. However, the government under Mr. Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki, citing budget difficulties, proposed reparations of approximately $400 per victim. Private and foreign donations to a special fund created for this purpose brought the total to no more than $3,000 each, paid to just over 3,500 victims.

Because of the suit in the United States and a broader predecessor one, companies have been wary of contributing to this fund lest it demonstrate liability. The issue has never been fully resolved and has stoked bitterness not only because some perpetrators of apartheid-era crimes won amnesty, but because many others chose not to testify and were never prosecuted.

Now the question has turned to whether foreign businesses should take on the responsibility of compensation. The truth commission did determine that business in general — both South African and foreign — contributed to the capabilities of the apartheid regime. But no specific taxes on businesses for reparations were ever instituted.

The South African government urged businesses to set up a trust fund for training those disadvantaged by apartheid and for other social programs, and this was done. Meanwhile, the government sought to encourage both domestic and foreign private investment through lower taxes, sound fiscal policy, and reduced debt and inflation, a set of policies resulting in average growth rates of around 5 percent over the past 15 years.

To address the legacies of apartheid more directly, the South African government dedicated major expenditures for education, housing, water and health, and instituted a wide-ranging affirmative action program. The results are impressive. Millions of houses have been built, clean water and electricity have been provided to millions of people, health services for children and pregnant women were made free, and a combination of pensions, grants and other benefits constitutes a social safety net of $10 billion a year that reaches nearly one quarter of the population.

Nevertheless, 15 years after the end of apartheid, the majority of black South Africans remain poor. Unemployment is officially near 26 percent but is probably much higher among the black population. Foreign investment, once eagerly anticipated, has been limited. Of the more than 200 American companies that divested from South Africa in the 1980s, few returned, seeing the South African market as small and poor at a time when the emerging markets of Asia were beckoning.

Ironically, two of the firms being sued, Ford and Daimler-Benz, are among the few that did return and are now among South Africa’s chief manufacturing exporters.

There is no question that apartheid victims deserve more. The crimes were horrific and leave deep scars.

But whether three non-South African companies can be used to help right this wrong is questionable. It would take billions to make South Africa whole, more than can be obtained under this suit or any other aimed solely at foreign businesses. The only way to make South Africa whole is for the country to break through the barriers of poverty. Multinational corporations can play an important role in this fight.

This suit may have helped publicize the country’s unmet needs and delayed justice, and it may spur the outside world to do more. But it cannot address South Africa’s real needs, and if it results in yet another token payment to a few thousand people, it will make the aftertaste of apartheid even more bitter.

*Posted in NY Times

A Pioneer for South Africa Cricket Retires

By HUW RICHARDSPublished: November 3, 2010

If Makhaya Ntini had done nothing but take wickets for South Africa, he would have been a memorable cricketer.

Ntini, though, will go down in history for far more than that. He was the first member of South Africa’s majority black community to play test cricket, perhaps making him post-apartheid South Africa’s most important athlete.

“What Nelson Mandela meant for South Africa, Makhaya meant for cricket,” said a clearly emotional Gerald Majola, chief executive of Cricket South Africa, at the news conference Tuesday in Johannesburg to announce Ntini’s retirement from international play.

“Nobody thought that we as black people would be able to compete, but I’ve done that,” Ntini said.

As historians Bruce Murray and Christopher Merrett have pointed out, cricket in South Africa “is the one major sport that has been widely played by each of the country’s major population groups.”

Ntini was compelling evidence in favor of affirmative-action policies that were implemented on the belief that serious cricketing talent had been lost to South Africa under apartheid. He retired with 390 victims in five-day tests, 11th on the all-time list, and another 266 in one-day internationals.

Ntini, born in 1977, spent his youth under apartheid, herding cows in the Eastern Cape village of Mdingi. He has said that he intends to call his memoirs “Ubulongwe,” which translates as cow patty from his native language.

Spotted as a 14-year-old bowling in torn shoes, he was awarded a scholarship to the prestigious, sport-focused Dale College in nearby King William’s Town, making him one of its first black pupils. Graduating to major-league standard cricket, he was fast-tracked into the South Africa team, making his debut at age 20.

Like many young players chosen on potential, he was a slow starter. His career was nearly derailed for good when he was convicted of rape in 1999, but the charge was dismissed on appeal.

He endured, and ultimately conquered, as one of the outstanding players of the new century. His 380 test wickets between 2000 and 2009 place him second only to Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan as the decade’s top wicket-taker.

He formed a superb partnership of contrasts with his fellow paceman, Shaun Pollock, the only man to have taken more wickets for South Africa. While Pollock probed and pressurized with his formidable control, Ntini prospered through pace — although he was never ultra-quick — and aggression, conceding more runs, but taking wickets more rapidly.

At his peak, between 2005 and 2007, he was the best fast bowler in the world. It was this three-year period that saw him take five wickets in an innings 11 times and 10 in a match — a particularly impressive feat for a fast bowler because of the endurance it requires — three times.

It saw such feats as his 13 wickets for 132, the best test figures ever by a South Africa, against West Indies at Port-of-Spain and dismissing Australia’s intimidatingly powerful Matthew Hayden in all six innings of a three-test series.

He was rated South Africa’s most popular sportsman, ahead of famed soccer players and a World Cup-winning rugby squad, in 2005 and 2007.

“When my body can take no more and my arms are broken, then I’ll go,” he said in the video that introduced his retirement statement.

It did not quite come to that, but he was clearly in decline by the time England visited South Africa last year. He was dropped after the second test, his test career ending on Dec. 30, 2009.

He will not disappear, though. There will be one more ceremonial international appearance, with South Africa’s selectors under orders to choose him for the Twenty20 match against India at Durban on Jan. 9. He also plans to continue playing professionally in South Africa for the Warriors.

And the energy, endurance, ebullience and optimism that have fueled a hugely successful international career will go into giving others the opportunity he has had. Openly worried that, as he puts it, young players from his home district often “disappear after six months,” Ntini is planning his own cricket academy in Mdantsane at a cost of about 15 million rand, or about $2.18 million.

Record rally for Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka staged an extraordinary comeback Wednesday, breaking the oldest record in one-day international cricket to beat Australia by one wicket in Melbourne. Chasing 240, Sri Lanka looked doomed at 107 for 8 when specialist bowler Lasith Malinga joined Angelo Mathews. They added 132, beating the all-time ninth wicket record set in 1983 before Malinga (54) was run out with the scores even. Muttiah Muralitharan struck the winning runs for Sri Lanka.

*Posted in NY Times