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The waves of 2015/2016 #FeesMustFall protests saw South African students questioning every inch of the higher education structure and its exclusionary patriarchal racist roots. Few alliances between students and staff were created because of the “us vs. them” divide, despite junior scholars in particular, having a great deal in common with students and the oppression and trauma they endure. “Post-FMF” saw many institutions scramble to create “transformative policies” for students and minority staff like women, people of colour, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ community and so on. Now, years later, everyone has policy fatigue. Minority staff have been pushed back to the margins and students battle the same challenges the fallists questioned. This paper with be a narrative study tracking the experiences of three junior scholars, black women at historically white universities; with the pseudonyms *Thoko, *Andile and *Thandazile. The research took a narrative approach rooted in qualitative research. It studies their insiderness/outsiderness to show just how little work institutions have done to ensure equality and inclusivity. This piece unpacks issues of belonging, and their experience as they try to navigate being postgraduate (PG) students and being staff, and being insiders and outsiders in both. This discussion is in relation to Alice Walker’s womanism theorising, focused on the experiences of black women. The authors also bring their own life experiences because the strong similarities between their own experiences and those of their participants are impossible to ignore. The authors’ diverse scholarly background is used in the analysis, leaning towards Critical Race Theorists like Cornel West’s discussion on black nihilism to better understand the aggression of black men towards black women in the academy. This is juxtaposed with a crisis of masculinity discussion. These experiences will also be viewed from a victimological perspective.
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023
ISSN 2957-434X
Wrestling to Exist
Womanist Struggles of Junior Scholars in
SouthAfrican Higher Education Institutions
Kelebogile Boleu
University of the Free State
Nombulelo Tholithemba Shange
University of the Free State
Busisiwe Ntsele
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
The waves of 2015/2016 #FeesMustFall protests saw South African students
questioning every inch of the higher education structure and its exclusionary
patriarchal racist roots. Few alliances between students and sta were created
because of the “us vs. them” divide, despite junior scholars in particular, having
a great deal in common with students and the oppression and trauma they
endure. “Post-FMF” saw many institutions scramble to create “transformative
policies” for students and minority sta like women, people of colour, people
with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ community and so on. Now, years later, everyone
has policy fatigue. Minority sta have been pushed back to the margins and
students battle the same challenges the fallists questioned. This paper will
be a narrative study tracking the experiences of three junior scholars, black
women at historically white universities; with the pseudonyms *Thoko,
*Andile and *Thandazile. The research took a narrative approach rooted in
qualitative research. It studies their insiderness/outsiderness to show just
how little work institutions have done to ensure equality and inclusivity. This
piece unpacks issues of belonging, and their experience as they try to navigate
being postgraduate (PG) students and being sta, and being insiders and
outsiders in both. This discussion is in relation to Alice Walker’s womanism
theorising, focused on the experiences of black women. The authors also
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
bring their own life experiences because the strong similarities between their
own experiences and those of their participants are impossible to ignore.
The authors’ diverse scholarly background is used in the analysis, leaning
towards Critical Race Theorists like Cornel West’s discussion on black nihilism
to better understand the aggression of black men towards black women in
the academy. This is juxtaposed with a crisis of masculinity discussion. These
experiences will also be viewed from a victimological perspective.
Key words: womanist, feminist, decolonisation, scholar, university, narrative
After the fallist movement slowed post-2016, South African universities
got into dialogue and policy drafting mode. They had heard the calls of the
students and sta and were committed to having decolonised institutions,
or so it seemed. Very little changed in the supposed “post-#FeesMustFall”
era, and decolonial practices went from being an emerging revolution, to
being out of touch, bureaucratic tick boxes. The Covid-19 pandemic and the
frustrations over the lack of real change snued out the hopes that many
had that higher education institutions were working towards being safe,
truly decolonised, revolutionised spaces of learning that are welcoming
to all. One of the biggest university protests “post-#FeesMustFall” spread
across South African universities in early 2021 (Mlaba, 2021). The students
were again faced with the same challenges that the fallists had fought in
2015/2016. This time the challenges were worsened by the global lockdown
to curb the spread of Covid-19. As industries closed or slowed production,
parents lost jobs, families were struggling, and it made the dream of higher
education even more elusive (Iwara, Musvipwa, Amaechi et al, 2020:764),
Furthermore, institutions of higher learning were not coming up with strong
solutions to support students. Instead, many students were being excluded
because they could not pay 2020’s tuition fees. Students challenged many
things; including issues relating to challenges around housing, the cruel
manner in which the university responds to protests with violence through
the state police or private security, as well as the National Student Financial
Aid Scheme, a student funding model which contributed to some of the issues
above because funds are typically released late by the Department of Higher
Education and Training (Payi, 2021).
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
Much of the pain and trauma of the students has been well documented
in both social and more traditional media, and the universities themselves
have capitalised on it as if the institutions were not willing contributors
to the violence students continue to endure. What we hear less about is
the experiences of sta, especially junior sta members, and how their
experiences have so much in common with the students’. The dierence is
that as employees they are limited in their ability to share their experience
because of non-disclosures some sign when starting a lecturing role. They
cannot speak because they have families and children who rely on them and
to lose their roles would plunge them into poverty. They do not speak because
of the victimisation and aggression from their Heads of Departments (HOD),
faculty and dierent university structures who punish them just for existing
in this space. This is one of the reasons why the participants are anonymous.
This paper documents the experiences of three black women working
and studying at historically white universities. The paper will narrate the
challenges they have faced in the academy, using a qualitative narrative
approach to record and discuss their experiences. The authors pull from their
own diverse scholarly background which includes Sociology, Gender Studies,
Law, Anthropology and Criminology. Alice Walker’s womanist discourse is
invoked to help make sense of the challenges sometimes unique to black
women. This discussion is in relation to the intersection between Critical Race
Theory and the crisis of masculinity, to make sense of the oppression from
black men towards black women. We adopt victimological theory to show
how black women are tagged and identied as inferior to justify the violence
directed towards them. The article ends with a brief look at how these
women nd comfort and success in an unsupportive, dehumanising space.
The discussion starts with an overview of decoloniality, resistance movements
and black women’s positionality in higher education to help set the context in
which the participants exist.
A Brief Literature Review: Decolonisation, Resistance
Movements And Black Women In Higher Education
Decolonisation of knowledge, power, and being is a long-standing ‘turn’
from colonial discourse. Increasing calls for decolonisation of universities are
informed by decoloniality, not postcolonialism (Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2018:10),
which means that, rather than being satised functioning in a context that
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
exists after colonialism/ postcolonialism, that claims to be free of colonial
oppression, one must question everything. Decoloniality, rather than post-
coloniality, encourages the questioning of Westernised education systems
rooted in prot and which maintain the status quo that keeps poverty
alive by continuing to exclude the “ex-colonised”. One must question the
commodication of knowledge and important social structures that instil a
zero-sum mentality where gains are often made from the oppression and
marginalisation of the colonised body (Mignolo, 2018: 40).
As a result of decolonisation, ex-colonised peoples are able to judge
and expose Euro-American hypocrisy and deceit. Decoloniality encourages
a retelling of the story of humanity and knowledge from the standpoint of
those epistemic sites that have suered from modernity’s negative eects,
emphasising appropriations, epistemicides, linguicides, and denials of
humanity as part of the history of science. Finally, decolonisation accepts
ontological pluralism as a reality that needs “ecologies of knowledge” to
be understood (Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2018:11). The fallist student movement’s
understanding of ontological pluralism was evident in the call for curriculum
change and diverse hiring practices, so that the knowledge and the scholars
might start to pull from diverse local and global experiences, and so that
education might become more than just a way to nd employment. Instead,
it becomes an important tool for addressing poverty, racial discrimination,
gender inequality, public health challenges, ecological degradation and many
other social ills (Mignolo, 2018:57).
This approach showed that the development of decolonial thinking
always involves a double critique, since Western thought was founded on a
dichotomy of exclusion, while also showing that dening decolonisation in the
academy is only a small part of the global and larger process of decolonising
knowledge and being (Mignolo, 2018:50). #FMF, while an important decolonial
movement, also shows the danger of what happens when even revolutionary
movements fail to adopt a double critique. The gender divide during #FMF
shows women are othered even in spaces of liberation and revolution. It was
at this moment that the gender tension seemed to prove that the “other”
is not encountered but is made. The university operates as a microcosm of
contemporary inequality. Mbali Mazibuko (2018, 490) illustrates that during
FMF the solidarity was threatened as soon as feminists started questioning
patriarchal domination which was becoming heavily visible. It was evident that
women carry multiple forms of oppression in the university space. Mazibuko
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
(2018, 493) argues that the solidarity was threatened by the fact that men
benet from sustaining patriarchy; hence the fallist feminists became
unapologetic about challenging the sustainability of patriarchy (Mazibuko,
Narrative Approach as A Solution To Womanist Erasure
And Methodology
A narrative approach has been used to represent the participants’ experiences.
This approach comes from qualitative methodology. Qualitative research
is unstructured, exible and relaxed, and aims to describe and explain a
situation, phenomenon, problem or event (Mason, 1994:101). It is important
to consider the historical background of the research topic, people’s opinions
of and responses to issues and detailed descriptions of research issues (Kumar,
2005:12-13). The central research technique was in-depth interviews which
were done in a virtual online focus group discussion. Open-ended questions
were asked, and participants had the freedom to take the conversation in
any direction through their storytelling-like responses. This is not only an
important decolonial tool; it is also life-arming. The participants spoke about
not feeling seen and the hurt which ensued when those who were responsible
for assisting them were not even willing to listen. Possible solutions were not
supported through the institutional bureaucracy required in order to access
them. Because of this, it is important to represent some of their stories as they
narrated them. It is through the narrative approach that the colonised can
begin to re-examine and rediscover themselves, others, and the world around
them. This rediscovery helps Africans start to see themselves in empowered
ways rather than as an extension of Western discourse.
Narratives can restore the African self that was once eroded by the
colonisers, or in this case, uncaring universities that are built on patriarchal
racism (wa Thiong’o, 1987:18). This approach does have some challenges
because only certain parts of that which was narrated can be represented, and
because some information can threaten anonymity. The narrative approach
was also used because of its ease of accessibility; in order to avoid veiling the
experiences and discussions in complex academic jargon and overly theoretical
interpretations. Bell Hooks argues that theory, particularly feminist theory,
should be for the everyday. When it is veiled in complex ideology, it alienates
those who it should be representing and narrating. These individuals then
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
end up struggling to see themselves in the writing and how the work could
advance them (Hooks, 2000:X).
Scholars such as anthropologist, Halleh Ghorashi (2021:53) speak of using
narratives to create a ground of reective zones to challenge normalised
images. In this case these may seem to be just like any other voices on campus,
but they represent critical voices of an unsettling normalisation of repression.
If the oppressed remain silent, space for the reproduction of such inequalities
is created, and silence ends up working as consent. Ghorashi (2021:59) further
adds that it is our intellectual task to challenge exclusion and indierence
through looking at discursive power and our own agency. Engaging with these
three narratives and positioning ourselves as insiders is not only a revival of
womanist scholars’ agency, but a call to question our role as engaged scholars.
Meeting the Participants: An Overview Of Their Stories
*Thoko joined her institution in 2016 as a mother of one child, *Sibongile.
She joined as a New Generation of Academic Programme (nGAP) candidate.
This is a development role that gives sta time to focus on their studies by
giving them minimal to no undergraduate (UG) teaching. The role also comes
with mentorship support, funding for postgraduate studies, conferences,
eldwork and other related costs. Thoko’s enrolment was to do her Master’s
and eventually her PhD. Numerous factors contributed to signicant delays
in completing her MA, a process which took six years. From the outset,
her workspace was inadequate, in a room isolated from the rest of the
department. She says the room was loud, it doubled as a storeroom, and was
shared by student assistants, contract, junior sta and ad hoc sta. Many of
them were not contractually bound to spend their oce hours there and
would often leave to quieter spaces when they had to focus, something
that Thoko, as a permanently employed sta member, could not do. Sta
members would come to print or collect paper, and student consultations
were chaotic because of the multiple students visiting dierent sta. She was
placed in this room even though there were a few vacant oces. The other
major hindrance was that she was never allowed to full her nGAP duties. She
was given undergraduate (UG) classes to teach from the rst year and often
had the biggest teaching load in her department, with no marking assistance.
She often single-handedly marked 400 scripts or more per assessment, with
students typically having three or four assessments per semester, so she was
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
constantly marking. She was also assigned an unqualied supervisor, and
when she would complain about the supervision or lack of supervision, she
was ignored. Finally, the supervisor resigned. This resignation occurred in the
middle of the supervisor’s disciplinary hearing when other things had come
to light and it was now clear the supervisor had misrepresented some of their
skills and capabilities. *Thoko was close to nishing her MA at the time and
had to be moved to a new supervisor. Therefore, her approach had to shift
and what she had been complaining about for years was now obvious: she had
basically been supervising herself.
For years she also battled with disappearing funds. She is still struggling
with this matter, and no one can account for where her funds went. Lockdown
aected her work just as it did other people’s, but she experienced a lack of
support, and for about a year she had no access to a working computer and
struggled to give even her online classes. While struggling to stay aoat with
the social, professional and personal challenges that came with the pandemic,
the MA became less of a priority for a full year. After a long ght she nally got
a laptop to help her with her MA and classes in 2021.
*Thandazile joined her institution in 2018, she had already been accepted
to do her PhD for 2019 at a dierent institution to the one at which she was
working. She struggled to get her institution to pay for her PhD studies at the
other institution even though during her interview they had promised her that
they would do so. She paid for her own tuition in 2019, but the lack of support
she got from her department, broken promises, and heavy UG teaching load
forced her to move her PhD to the university she is employed at. She thought
that this would make life easier. She was in debt from paying her own tuition
and had last worked on her proposal at the beginning of 2019, meaning she
had wasted the whole year she had paid for. Her PhD proposal was strong
because she had travelled to her study institution to present her work; a trip
which she paid for herself. Her work was supported at departmental level and
was ready for ethical clearance, all that was missing was an institutional letter
of support from the department where she was employed. The letter had to
state that the department supported her study especially because she was
doing an ethnographic study which at some point would require her to spend
six months or more in the eld. This could be done all at once or broken up
to accommodate her work commitments. Her Head of Department (HOD)
called her eldwork plan “a holiday” and refused to support it. Even though
she insisted the HOD speak to her supervisor, he was uninterested. Moving
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
her research to the institution she was employed at was supposed to make
life easier especially because she was basically ready for ethical clearance
at her previous institution, and she moved her study in 2020. The change in
supervisors did not cause much delay or a big shift in approach. What delayed
her was the ethics process, which took over nine months, only nally being
approved in 2021. Her funders took away 2020’s budget. This made concluding
eldwork challenging because she was working with half the budget and had
to spend a lot of her own money to do it, putting her even deeper in debt.
The pandemic also meant that she had to contribute even more towards
her family as some lost jobs. She worked hard to get a promotion in 2020
but was disappointed to see it was mostly a title change because the nancial
increase was small, and she had received bigger general annual increases
than her promotion in the past. Her HOD, whilst persuading her to join the
university, had convinced her that with her hard work, she would get a big
promotion that might almost double her salary in a year or two. He raised
this when she was considering turning down the oer because the university
was struggling to match or beat her previous salary. When challenging the
small promotion, her HOD seemed aloof and pretended not to remember
the discussion. She was told the policy had changed and promotions did not
work as they did before and was encouraged by Human Resources (HR) that
the new policy allowed for sta to apply for promotions every six months.
A year later, she had published in various spaces, written technical reports
for corporate and education clients, worked in policy, and had amassed
international partnerships. She therefore decided to apply again. Her HOD
rejected her application and suggested the promotions committee do the
same. He told her she was too ambitious, told her she was not ready for
another promotion despite having mentioned previously in shock, hearing her
list her achievements, that she was doing work that even professors were not
doing. She took the issue up with the faculty and the response was the same
as the department; nally, she went to HR. She gave up and threw herself
back into her PhD when a senior member of HR lied about certain things that
had to do with her process. HR nally asked her to call for clarity, but during
this call, they yelled at her, calling her entitled and spoiled. They refused
to read her promotion application, and when she asked that the matter be
escalated to top management, they refused. They subtly threatened to re
her by suggesting that her promotion from junior lecturer to lecturer at the
end of 2020 meant that she was on two-year probation again and all probation
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
rules apply, including dismissals based solely at the employer’s discretion even
if there is no wrongdoing. Despite the delays and challenges, and thanks to
some of the relief her funding did provide, *Thandazile is doing her fourth
year of her PhD and is condent it is her nal year.
*Andile joined her university in 2015 and like *Thandazile, there was no
full transparency with her appointment to a division that dealt with engaged
scholarship. She knew she was taking a signicant pay cut from her old job to
pursue her goal of being an academic, but she was shocked upon receiving her
rst salary to realise how big the cut was. She had been promised tuition fees
for PhD studies and had also been told residence on campus was aordable,
only to be placed in one of the new and most expensive PG residences on
campus. Her PhD research has a strong engaged scholarship approach, the
inspiration for which came from her previous Non-governmental Organisation
(NGO) work and other community service work. She eventually applied for
PhD funding elsewhere. She joined the fallist protests because she herself
had struggled to nd funding. Other sta criticised her for standing with the
students and some questioned why she would do it because she had recently
been awarded a very good grant to study and had a salary. By the end of
2015, her supervisor was leaving the university, but he did not tell her. He
had planned to move her to a dierent department. She was uncomfortable
with the lack of communication and refused to change departments. Her
supervisor was furious and told her that he had good intentions for her but
since loyalty was important to him, he had decided that he was no longer
interested in her PhD study.
*Andile carved her own plan and eventually landed a contract lecturing
job at the same institution in 2016. They disregarded her MA when they hired
her and paid her a junior lecturer rate; she had to ght to be appointed as a
lecturer. Even when HR decided to correct the contract, there was no back
pay. The rst few months were the hardest as she could not believe that
she nally had a job she loved and dreamt of, but it came with no support.
At that point she did not even have access to the locked bathroom. After
futile attempts to request a bathroom key, she eventually had to threaten
to stop coming to work for them to nally get her a key. When she nally
settled in, she was excited to get back to her research at long last, but the
teaching load was overwhelming. The senior colleague she taught with, who
would later become one of her supervisors, would purposefully give her
more work and more scripts to mark, with no markers. With diculty, after a
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
year as a lecturer, she resigned, because she had not touched her PhD since
2015. In 2017 she threw all her eorts into her PhD, there were changes to
her work because of the change of supervisors and she had already lost time
looking for supervisors. She nally completed her proposal and went to the
ethics committee for the rst time three years into her study. She remained
stuck at Ethics for 18 months, often being rejected for grammar and spelling
issues, even giving new corrections with every submission. At some point
they insisted she translate her interviews to an African language even though
all her participants were working professionals who even preferred to be
interviewed in English because some of the industry-specic words might not
exist in African languages. She spent a lot of money on editors and translators,
only to nd out there was no one at Ethics who spoke African languages who
could make sure she translated properly and was not causing harm. In 2020
the lockdown caused tremendous delays on her work, and in 2021 she had a
mental breakdown and almost gave up on her study. She was told she needed
to stay registered and would be provided with provisional registrations due
to the breakdown. However, in 2022 she discovered she was blocked from
registration due to owing the university money. She still had to ght again for
registration and constantly got reminders that her registration was conditional
until she had paid the outstanding balance. Andile hopes to complete her PhD
in 2023. Even though there are still challenges, she is in a better place now and
has decided to complete her study at a distance from her university and in a
dierent town to where her campus is. The university continues threatening
her about fees to date.
Shared Oppression: Seeing Ourselves in the Participants’
All three women moved to academia from the NGO environment. They had
thriving careers in the NGO space and moved to the university space because
they wanted to study further and had a passion for education. They are all
women of colour; another reason why we refer to their womanist experiences,
rather than their feminist experiences. Womanism is a term coined by Alice
Walker, a novelist, activist and poet. Womanism refers specically to the
experiences of black women or women of colour; experiences which are not
adequately represented in feminism, even though their contributions have
historically shaped much of feminist discourse (Walker, 1983:xi). Historical and
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
contemporary feminism has ignored the struggles and contributions of black
women. Early feminist suragette struggles in the 19th century disregarded
the exclusion of black women in discussions on who should have the right
to vote. This even prompted formerly enslaved abolitionist and women’s
rights activist, Sojourner Truth, to write a poem titled; Ain’t I a woman? in
1851 (Humez, 1996:44). Second-wave liberal feminism in the 1960s was also
inuenced by the expressions and ghts of black women within the civil rights
movement. But feminism failed to support the black struggle they drew
inspiration from and only elevated the contributions of white women within
the feminist movement (Langston, 1998:158). It is for this reason that activists
like Walker adopt the womanist theoretical discussion. Womanism is about
black women’s ability to self-determine and is concerned with the sexism and
racism faced by black women. Western feminists’ engagement with feminism
is at times at the expense of black women who end up being excluded. In fact,
some of the hardships some of our participants have had to endure have come
from white feminists in their institutions who have masqueraded as friends
and allies, only to later marginalise and withhold support as they experience
various challenges. And so, just like the discussions from Walker and feminist
scholar, Patricia Hill Collins (1996:10 & 11), we start to see through the
participants’ experiences that, white women are a part of the problem that
contributes to the marginalisation of black women.
Another thing the participants have in common is that they are all young
and believed that their womanist expressions would nd the most acceptance
in academia, because universities are supposed to be liberal and accepting
places of learning and discourse. Furthermore, they are PG students and
lecturers at their respective institutions. Their role of straddling two very
dierent functions in their universities brings its own complexities. They have
to constantly navigate their insider/ outsider positionality in the institutions.
Being a sta member often comes with certain advantages, even if it is in just
the way people treat you and show you a level of professionalism and respect.
But because in some ways, they are not fully sta, or they are both sta and
students, they never fully access the privileges of being sta. In some ways
they are outsiders, and not really sta, because they have far more in common
with students based on how they are treated and at times undermined.
However, they are also not students, and it is hard for them to nd comfort
in student struggles because students might not see them as students and
might even associate them with the whole uncaring system of which they
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
appear to be a part. They also have to be careful especially when there are
sparks of student protests; if they are seen to be supporting the actions of
protesting students, they could experience further discrimination. So, they
are outsiders even as students, although materially they are also in a far better
position than students and enjoy certain liberties that students do not. The
uidity of their insiderness and outsiderness can be unsettling (Naples 1996,
84). Fluidity can be important because it brings a certain level of exibility.
But when the outsiderness of junior sta is used against them, especially in
relation to their sta role, it can create lack of stability and be disempowering.
*Thandazile’s discussion on the challenges with getting ethical clearance and
their slow response which was threatening her research and funding shows
the complexities of the insider/outsider challenges, of balancing being a
student and a sta member. *Thandazile adds (interview with authors 2022);
The responses to my ethical clearance submissions were taking longer than usual to
come. I had already been rejected once over an IT error that made it look like I had
not uploaded certain documents. The error was later discovered. I was then told
to resubmit anyway because my application was strong. But when feedback took
longer than usual to come after the second submission as well, I reached out to
Ethics to nd out what was the delay. I was told, as a sta member I should be more
patient and have more understanding because I understand the extreme amount
of pressure we are all under and that things get delayed sometimes. I backed o,
when the feedback nally came I was rejected for things like not using Afrikaans
questionnaires, small grammar errors, and other issues that had nothing to do with
the ethics process. When I questioned why I had been rejected, given the IT error
and the promise that had been made after my rst submission, the same person
who had told me to have more grace for her as a member of sta now told me
that she does not answer to students, that I had no right to access her, and that if I
wanted to talk to her, it should be through my supervisor.
Identity is important to people; even more so when navigating diculties,
as individuals often get support from the groups they identify with. In the
workplace, identity helps people to t into the workplace culture and nd
some sense of belonging within the organisation. It creates a crisis for people
like *Thandazile to feel like they are nding belonging when senior sta
members conde in them about their challenges, only to later on be rejected
and harmed by them. It becomes dicult for the person to make sense of
who they are within the institution, what value they bring and why their
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
role is important (Reissner, 2010:288). This can create a kind of dissonance
towards the work and their role in the institution. Some become content with
remaining in junior roles and give up any ambition to publish, complete their
studies and make it to senior roles. This is as they realise the kind of support
they need will not be provided. Departments typically see the goal to publish
as a personal goal rather than an organisational one in which lecturers should
be supported. Alternative individuals, especially womanists, realise they
must give up a lot of the individual identity to t into the collective identity
of their department/ university, this also threatens creativity as newness
and implementation of new strategies can be frowned upon (Shange, 2022;
Reissner, 2010:297).
*Thandazile later mentioned that she had avoided reporting the
committee for the rst rejection based on the error because she understands
the diculties sta face. She did not want to get them into trouble for
something that was no one’s fault. She related to them as sta, only to later
on feel alienation when they used her insiderness and outsiderness to not
only reject her ethics, but also undermine her as a sta member. Workplace
culture is also how people often access resources that are provided by their
social environment (Thornton, 1988:24). One can say the resource here
was the ethical clearance or at least clearer communication from the Ethics
Committee on what she needed to do to get ethical approval. Culture in social
spaces is not equally accessible to all and some have more power to shape the
culture and determine who gets to enjoy the resources that culture provides
(Thornton 1988, 25). This is especially true for universities in South Africa and
arguably globally, where men and white people typically have more access and
more power to wield and control the institutional culture. White people and
men become wary or suspicious of the changes and diversifying happening in
universities, because these might change their positionality and power roles
in the institutions. So, it is not uncommon for them to use structures such as
Ethics to eliminate or side-track the perceived threat coming with the new
wave of calls for decolonisation. They might try to control the study by raising
arbitrary restrictions and going beyond the limits of the Ethics Committee by
engaging in content in which they do not have expertise (Cannella & Lincoln
2007, 315 ; Schrag 2011, 120). This is particularly worrying when the research
under scrutiny is decolonial discourse. This might force some to abandon
it altogether or reproduce destructive Western discourse that decolonial
theories seek to address. This can also be stiing to candidates who might
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
end up feeling limited in their research approach, and beyond the candidate, it
threatens the discourse. halting the calls for decolonised institutions (Shange
2021, 4 & 6).
As authors, we can relate to the participants’ struggle to navigate her
insiderness/outsiderness as we balance our studies with often massive
UG teaching and learning responsibilities. Some of us are even hired under
developmental roles like nGAP. In the long run, nGAP hopes to address the
shortage of lecturers, especially senior lecturers, who can provide much-
needed supervision to the growing postgraduate (PG) cohort. This programme
requires the candidate to do minimal to no UG teaching and learning while
they focus on their PG research, engaged scholarship or publishing in academic
books and journals. And like *Thandazile, we have all faced challenges with
navigating ethics, the worst of which resulted in one of us being delayed for
two years
Womanists are not Welcome Here: The Victimisation of
Black Women Scholars
The fact that I was a parent was frowned upon, and that I was pregnant yet again
was seen as time-wasting. I was hurt by the department associating parenting with
unproductivity. Falling pregnant with my second child immediately painted me as
unreliable and unprofessional. When I challenged the lack of support I received,
which led to my research being delayed, my having children was thrown back in my
face as the reason for my challenges…A senior colleague once said in a meeting,
with condence that if the younger academics are to make it, they should let go
of the ideals of having any sort of life outside of academia, that marriage and
children are a far-fetched dream - this is whilst I was the only parent, and the only
black woman in the room…This was not the treatment I expected from a liberal
space. As a Christian woman, I thought I would even relate to the Christian religious
foundation of most South African universities. My religion has taught me to love,
and to be respectful and humble, but I have never received the same from the
university. I eventually realised that even similarities in religious sentiments or the
new decolonial agendas are not going to help me nd acceptance in this space
because it is me the space hates. I am a black body, a woman and child bearer. I
am the thing that the university and the world targets to reject and marginalise.
(*Thoko, interview with authors, 2022).
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
*Thoko’s victimisation is important to make sense of and acknowledge. The
study of victimology considers the various ways people regard themselves as
victims. It acknowledges that actions, regardless of the intentions behind them,
may be experienced as victimising by the next person. Victimology argues that
the concept of victimhood is dened dierently based on culture and society
(Fohring, 2018:5). Scholars in this eld are sensitised to how people can be
victimised and that oending actions can only be interpreted based on how
the next person experiences their treatment. One would expect that scholars
would express the most empathy towards people, because of their deeper
intellectual understanding of society. But they often ignore the discourse
they often teach, write about and build strong careers on. When you operate
from the fact that people are naïve or ignorant, you almost have an excuse for
their actions. Even Jesus recognises this on the cross when He says “Father,
forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (The Holy Bible,
Luke 23:34). However, in academia, they do know what they are doing; in fact,
they know better. And when these levels of victimisation exist in the academy,
it brings the whole system into question and threatens the very existence of
universities. One might rightfully question how people can trust uncaring and
violent spaces like universities to lead society and come up with solutions to
its problems when academics behave in violent ways themselves. They are the
same perpetrators and oppressors they write and teach about, using their
intellect to hide their intentions and target those they see as “weak”.
In his book Crime and Community, labelling theorist and criminologist,
Frank Tannenbaum dened “tagging” as the process whereby an individual is
negatively dened by societies (Bernburg, 2009:189). He believed that once a
person has been dened and tagged as ‘bad’, few legitimate opportunities will
remain open to them. The frustration of being seen as lazy and the constant
pressure black women have to prove themselves emanates from how people
see them and “tag” them before knowing them. Critical Race Theorist, Cornel
West has a similar discussion; he writes about black nihilism. It is a kind of angst,
hopelessness and self-hate that black people feel towards themselves when
whiteness has tagged blackness as inferior (West, 1994:23). It sometimes
leads to violence, especially towards more marginalised groups like women or
children. It also causes inward anger as the person slowly becomes the thing
they are often stereotypically against.
The anger towards the oppressor and need for liberation become more
challenging to express. The inward anger further promotes hate and a sense
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
of worthlessness, while self-hate is reinforced by the environment, broken
communities, lack of resources and support structures (Warren, 2015:225).
West and civil rights leaders like Dr Martin Luther King Jr suggested that black
nihilism can be treated with love, restoration of the black being, politics of
conversation or a new kind of politics that needs care and constant analysis
(Warren, 2015:215). It is therefore important for institutions striving to
decolonise to become truly inclusive and rid themselves of the stereotypes
and tags they place on black women and consider love and care in policies and
their operations.
Womanist Presence in Universities and the Rise of Crisis
of Black Masculinity
“During this PhD journey, an HOD looked at me with a straight face and told me that
he didn’t think there was racism in this department or in the university. Actually, he
cannot see any of his sta capable of being racist. But we still see overt and covert
racism, exclusion, and indierence everywhere in our experiences as junior sta.
Most South African universities are built on racism and segregation. And here is the
black senior scholar telling me he thinks there is no racism here, when I have even
had to ght with a white woman for months for a basic human right, like access to
the toilet” (*Andile, interview with authors, 2022).
Black men in academia often marginalise or ignore black women. Usually
because black men are the dominant non-white group, the instinct as junior
scholars are to go under their wing and be mentored by them. One believes
the shared trauma of being black and oppressed will unite, that black men
will see themselves in black women or see a struggling sister or daughter. But
at times black women experience the harshest treatment from black men
(Shange, 2017:60). By claiming there is no racism, not only did her HOD fail to
protect *Andile when she was being victimised, he also disregarded her hurt
by invalidating her concerns about racism.
Black men also typically overlook womanist challenges; they see them as
women complaining, they fail to see the commonalities between their own
racial oppression and those of women and dierent gender groups. They also
often see women, especially in the workplace, as a threat to their own success
and livelihood. They do not believe there is enough space on the table for black
women and men, and so they nd ways to exclude black women. Feminist
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
scholars refer to this as a crisis of masculinity, a phenomenon which was most
obvious in European post-war society. Men constructed a lot of their ideas
about what it means to be a man around work, the ability to provide for the
family and so on (Morgan, 2006:109). When they could no longer do this upon
returning from war, they started to question their manliness, thus creating this
crisis of masculinity. This crisis of masculinity is often directed towards women
in violent forms, especially in the home (Morgan, 2006:111). In the workplace,
it looks like *Andile’s pain being undermined or *Thandazile’s promotion being
intentionally disrupted by her black male HOD and faculty head. They allow
patriarchy and whiteness to constantly reproduce themselves at the expense
of junior sta.
Finding Solutions in Emerging Decolonial Scholars
Emerging decolonial scholars like Ntando Sindane (2021, 238) might argue
that the reason why people still experience these kinds of challenges in
higher education and society is because the focus is often on transformation
rather than decolonisation. He argues that these two often get used
interchangeably whilst representing dierent things. Sindane (2021:243)
argues that “decoloniality frames the starting point of decolonisation as
studying the three localities of coloniality, namely the coloniality of Being,
Power, and Knowledge. To be sure, the coloniality of Being has to do with
how the coloniser dismembered the ‘Being’ of colonised bodies.”
The dismembering black colonised body still exists in higher education,
where the colonised body is seen as incomplete, lacking or even as a non-
being (Shange, 2021:11; Sindane, 2021:244). Transformation suggests there
is some level of equality between people and can only be implemented when
people are relatively equal, not when some have had their humanity stripped
from them. Transformation can only take place when colonial lingering ceases
to exist. These colonial lingering create power imbalances, suggesting that
whiteness and manliness are superior to blackness, womanhood and other
marginalised groups, and undermine any contributions to knowledge coming
from women, people of colour or anyone that does not t into the “superior
white man ideal” (Shange 2017, 61 & 65).
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
Finding Comfort and Success in Hostile Universities
While theory is important for nding solutions, tangible ways people nd
comfort and strength are crucial. Here we felt it best to leave the participants’
views as they are, without going too deep into a discussion or interpreting
them. This is to help with maintaining the narrative tradition of allowing
those who have been marginalised to control and tell their own history and
experiences (wa Thiong’o 1987, 18). The one observation is that few of the
participants nd comfort and solutions in the university or their departments/
faculty, which reects just how lonely a space a university can be for women
and people of colour. What is also important from their responses is networks
and connections; social or professional networks are important, it is not
possible to go through this journey alone. It is also important to mention that
all the people who supported these participants institutionally were women
of colour, they showed each other love, kindness and caring. This is what the
participants had to say about how they nd comfort in their dicult journeys:
For me it’s just looking at the women that have made it. Guys, if you look at people
like Prof Puleng *Lenka Bula*. That’s why even when a friend was struggling a few
weeks ago, I told her to follow the story of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson because
she had a lot in common with her and were in similar professions. These women
don’t die when they bury them, they multiply in other ways, they multiply, in you
and me, these women ght… So, it’s important to really have a support structure.
Even my brother will tell me to go on and bloody ght, I didn’t bring you up to
give up. My family and friends are really there for me…In the institution, *Kim
really supported me. *Kim (one of her PG research interview participants) opened
all these doors for me to be taken with on research eld trips on the institution’s
budget. She would give me someone that would go with me to some of these
places in the eld I had to visit. She was already in the pits with her own PG studies
and facing similar exclusion we are facing and she still helped me. I saw now she is
*Dr Kim and that inspired me to push because we used to cry together, she would
close the door and we would pray in her oce. She and some of the sta from her
oce would sometimes even take me in their own cars to the eld when I didn’t
know how I would get there (*Andile, interview with author, 2022).
I think… I think for me, my saving grace is actually my little babies, because I cannot
fail them by failing myself. If I say I’m giving up, I can’t do this anymore. I’m already
saying, you know, *Sibongile and *Cairo, you’ll get to this point, but you won’t be
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
able to break any more ceilings. I’m working so that their lives can be easier to a
certain extent even if I’m not the richest woman in the world… Look in my family,
I was the rst graduate from a university, but there were a lot of diculties and
challenges… I want to be able to say to them [the children] that I did it with all these
diculties, you guys have the resources, you guys have the ability to do it… You can
change the entire world… There are friendships that I lean on because they support
me and we have the same shared oppression, so my problems don’t feel like they
are just mine, it is a general institutional disease.
I nd my comfort in feminist theory, it helps me make sense of what is happening
to me and why and sometimes it even oers solutions. I love to write, so that is my
other comfort, and it has led to many career successes and being acknowledged
outside of the academy. It feels good to see my work impact people’s lives. I have
also been fortunate enough to have senior womanist mentors, including my PhD
supervisor, she makes me feel like I can do anything and restores me when I doubt
myself. They all push me to take on new opportunities even when I am scared. I
also speak to my ancestor through ukuphahla (meditating) but sometimes even
this can be triggering because I run out of prayers. (*Thandazile, interview with
The poor representation of women is not an issue that is unique to higher
education, it is a symptom of colonialism and apartheid that democratic
society has been unwilling or unable to correct. Women are underrepresented
everywhere: in politics, in policy-making, leadership, in religious structures,
corporate spaces and even in the family (Alison, Sithole & Williamson,
2010:71). The reason we focused on universities is because of the participants’
experiences as scholars. We wanted to narrate their experiences and show
how they intersect with ours. Universities globally and especially in South
Africa, have been spaces for debate; they have led or sparked social change
that led to the liberation of South Africa. When they systematically oppress
womanist scholars and students, they betray the liberties and ideals they
once stood for. They also undermine the discourse they teach and at times
promote, ideas coming from race and feminist discussions like the importance
of understanding intersectional struggles in order to ensure equality.
Pan-African Conversations 1(1)2023 Kelebogile Boleu
This paper has discussed these intersectionalities by pulling from the
works of Walker and her concern with how black women are not adequately
represented in feminist struggles. We further show the additional conict and
displacement black women experience when they are marginalised by black
men. We turn to the crisis of masculinity and black nihilism to make sense
of this phenomena. Finally, we end with reections from the participants
who narrate how they cope, how they create a supportive space with and
for other women. These reections are supported by decolonial analysis on
the importance of instilling the personhood that has been desecrated by
colonialism in Africa. Universities must do this in every eort they adopt to try
and make the space more supportive and welcoming of marginalised groups.
Universities should be a fair space, where women are not constantly
having to prove themselves. They should understand that women, although
in this space, still function in a society where they are primarily caregivers, not
simply of their children, but their parents, other family members, neighbours
and friends. By simply being a woman, more is expected of us. Therefore, an
institution that does not take this into consideration is not decolonised or
inclusive. Women deserve similar ease to men, especially in places of higher
learning that demand high-functioning individuals to contribute to multiple
spaces including teaching and learning, engaged scholarship, research
and leadership. Scholars are expected to juggle all of these roles without
adequate tools or support. These challenges often come from within; they
come from the junior sta’s own departments and faculties. These women
struggle to meaningfully integrate into workplace culture as they navigate
these challenges, because in some ways they are neither sta nor students.
They exist in an in-between space, wrestling to exist.
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South Africa's recent higher education protests around fees and decolonizing institutions have shone a spotlight on important issues and have inspired global discussion. We witnessed similar resistance during apartheid, where African languages and ideas were limited. The educational space was the most affected by clashes between languages and ideas; we saw this in the prioritizing of English and Afrikaans over indigenous African languages and the prioritizing of Western medicine, literature, arts, culture, and science over African ones. This chapter will show how formal education and knowledge production in South Africa has been used as a tool to repress Black people, while discrediting their knowledge systems. This discussion will draw from impepho, which is rejected by Christians because its main use is for communicating with ancestors. The herb has many other medicinal uses, but it is still rejected. African practices are used and revitalized by AIC like the Shembe Church and revolutionary movements like FMF.
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National responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have varied from country to country. In South Africa, the response has included a compulsory 21-day lock-down entailing restrictions of social and economic activities among other things. This arguably helped the country to avoid further spread of the virus, especially in townships, informal settlements and rural communities, where access to health facilities is often difficult. However, it has also exposed rural households to unforeseen challenges. This paper explores these challenges in view of proffering policy measures to help such households during subsequent lock-down. University students living within such rural households were purposively sampled to solicit electronic data from heads of households in Vhembe district. Using a qualitative method to analyze the data gathered from 82 households, five major issues emerged which include access to basic needs such as groceries, whereas water and health items were some of the challenges. The situation in households is further compounded by 'limited source of income' due to retrenchments and shutdown of subsistence businesses. 'Depression and frustration' emanating from the fear of contracting the virus, spousal domestic abuse, inability to meet home obligations, family squabbles as well as boredom caused by movement restriction also constitute part of the challenges. The lack of needed information regarding the virus, and 'theft' were other two challenges. Based on these findings, the paper recommends thorough consideration of the identified challenges before the enforcement of such lock-down. It also encourages more improvement to be made in the area of service delivery in rural communities.
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The rhetoric espoused by the opponents of the #FeesMustFall protests and universities’ management in South Africa framed the discourse around the need to securitize campuses against the protestors who were a danger to students and the wider university community. The protestors framed their arguments within the security-development context, arguing that without free education they were bound to be excluded from education and later from jobs and a good livelihood, hence endangering their security. The stalemate quickly resulted in the securitization of university spaces a development that was backed up with the brutal force of police and private security companies pushing the students to engage in extreme measures like burning buildings to be heard. Through the use of securitization theory, this paper explores the rationale for the securitization of university spaces. The Security-Development nexus perspective sheds more light on the motives behind the #Feesmustfall movement. The paper further explores whether the combination of the securitization of university spaces and the funding offered by President Zuma were enough to quell the protest. The paper further delves into the new reality of private security companies expanding their role in the securitization of South Africa and the waning role of the police in the protection of public spaces. Key findings of the study are that both the students and universities had different interests during the fees must fall and without a mediator, the use of force ensued. Although the South African government has invested more money into universities, the relationship between the university management and the students remains fractured. Plus the lack of trained police unit to deal with student protests leaves the police unable to maintain law and order without resorting to extreme violence.
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Feminist and womanist resistance in South Africa has not received the attention it deserves, considering the sacrifice women made during the struggle for freedom. Today sadly not much has changed. Women within the Fees Must Fall (FMF) protest movement have been a little more successful in shaping their own narratives, but unfortunately our ancestors could not do this; so much of the information about their resilience has been lost. Social media today plays a huge role in ensuring that this no longer happens. This perspective piece discusses womanist resistance by drawing on historical examples of social, political and even religious groups created or largely influenced by women. The historical discussion of the Alexandra Women's Council, Bantu Women's League and individuals like Pastor Clarah Maphumulo is juxtaposed with contemporary struggles of young student female activists. This has been done through a discussion about the University of the Witwatersrand naked protest, as well as by highlighting gender inequality within FMF. This perspective also illustrates how recent Fallism protest actions owe their origins to Ubuntu, which informs so many of the Black Consciousness ideals which revolutionaries value. It also maps out how Ubuntu influenced early activism against Christian missionaries and empowered African women to resist Western domination at a time when it was dangerous to do so. The spirit and passion of women acting against Christianity in the 1900s and against the State in the 1950s are the same that shape contemporary womanist resistance.
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Identifying as a victim of crime is a complex process involving both social and personal motivations. This paper utilises data gathered from victims of crime to examine how their thoughts, feelings and reactions to the victim label are influenced by societal stigma, and how this influence is mediated by personal beliefs and cognitive processes. It does this firstly by examining participants’ thoughts and reactions to the word ‘victim’, where findings indicate a distinct disconnect between how an incident of crime is labelled and how a victim identifies themselves, suggesting an acknowledgement of the incident as wrong and illegal, but denial of victimhood. Secondly, key themes considered by participants to be characteristic of victimhood are identified. These include weakness as a core characteristic of victims, the fluidity of the state of victimhood and the importance of effective coping versus suffering.