COSATU is extremely disappointed by the blatant disregard shown by some universities towards employment equity

18 March 2024

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is extremely disappointed by the blatant disregard shown by some universities towards employment equity.  It defies belief that 30 years into democracy, several historically White universities have shown very little movement towards an academic staff that reflects the diversity of not only South Africa but even their own university students.

Whilst the Federation has never expected overnight transformation, nor does the Employment Equity Act require this, we do expect tangible progress, more so given that thirty years has passed since 1994 and the amount of money that taxpayers have spent on not only funding student tuition but also the universities themselves.

A recent survey by News24 has found deeply worrying indications of a complete failure to embrace the spirit of diversity amongst several universities.  Examples include 66% to 74% of the Universities of the North West, Stellenbosch, Free State and Pretoria’s professoriate being White despite Whites being 8% of the nation’s population.  Similar worrying trend appear with the University of the Free State only having 19 women professors, yet not one of them is African, Coloured or Indian.  One can only assume similar painful figures for persons with disabilities.

These shameful failures to make substantial progress towards ensuring African, Coloured, Indian and women staff are appointed at all levels of the academic staff could be blamed on societal challenges, yet several universities have shown real progress, including the Universities of Johannesburg, Witwatersrand, Western Cape and Cape Peninsula.

This is a scandal that should not continue to be ignored or swept under the carpet.  The Ministry for Higher Education and Parliament should hold these tardy institutions accountable as they are entitled to under the Higher Education Act.  The University Councils need to be rustled out of their deep slumber and fulfill their governance mandates.  University administrations who continue to show contempt for the non-racial and non-sexist vision of the Constitution should be encouraged to make way for younger and more progressive persons.  Those who refuse, should be told their state funding will be made conditional on tangible progress.

Government needs to do more to not only ensure children from disadvantaged communities are able to access and succeed at tertiary education institutions, but also to mentor and invest in the next generation of academics and lecturers.  The private sector, in particular large, listed corporations, need to play their role and invest in historically disadvantaged universities. 

What we cannot afford to do, is to greet forty years of democracy in a decade and still see such depressing employment equity figures.

Issued by COSATU 

For further information please contact:
Matthew Parks
Acting National Spokesperson & Parliamentary Coordinator 
Cell: 082 785 0687