n South African Journal of Higher Education - Investigating 'race' and social cohesion at the University of KwaZulu-Natal

Volume 24, Issue 6
  • ISSN : 1011-3487



In the light of the notorious video made by white students at the University of Free State (UFS) in which black middle aged cleaners were subjected to forms of degradation in a mock initiation ceremony (which included being given food mixed with urine) the Minister of Education authorised an investigation on social cohesion in universities. The Soudien report which followed from this questioned the transformative role of universities, noting that 'racism and sexism' were 'pervasive' in these. I take the Soudien report as a springboard for further investigative research on race (and gender) in universities, and, focusing on the University of KwaZulu-Natal, discuss principles and concerns which ought in my view to inform such research. I argue that part of the investigation should involve participatory research with students at the university and also with learners in the feeder schools in the Durban area, and try to illustrate the importance of doing this by taking examples of research with students and learners in these institutions. I address some of the epistemological and ethical problems arising from doing this kind of research, (notably how such research may be implicated in producing the very categories it seeks to investigate). The article walks a tightrope between two influential and opposite positions, one which suggests there is nothing to investigate and the other which already starts from the position that 'race' is an important category which determines students' lives, identities and relations. The significance of race, I argue, needs to be explored not assumed, and other factors such as gender and class need to be considered (as I illustrate in this article) as possible sources of identification and dimensions of power along and in conjunction with race.

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