On extending the truncated parameters of transformation in higher education in South Africa into a language of democratic engagement and justice

Nuraan Davids


Universities, in their multiplex roles of social, political, epistemological and capital reform, are by their constitution expected to both symbolise and enact transformation. While institutions of higher education in South Africa have been terrains of protest and reform – whether during apartheid or post-apartheid – the intense multiplex roles which these institutions assume have metaphorically come home to roost in the past 2 years. Not unlike the social-media-infused rumblings, coined as the ‘Arab Spring’, the recent cascades of #mustfall campaigns have brought to the fore the serious dearth of transformation in higher education and have raised more critical questions about conceptions of transformation, and how these translate into, or reflect, the social and political reform that continues to dangle out of the reach of the majority of South Africans. What, then, does transformation mean and imply? How does an institution reach a transformed state? How does one know when such a state is reached? These are a few of the concerns this article seeks to address. But it hopes to do so by moving beyond the thus far truncated parameters of transformation – which have largely been seeped in the oppositional politics of historical advantage and disadvantage, and which, in turn, have ensured that conceptions of transformation have remained trapped in discourses of race and racism. Instead, this article argues that the real challenge facing higher education is not so much about transformation, as it is about enacting democracy through equipping students to live and think differently in a pluralist society.


higher education; transformation; must-fall campaigns; social and political reform; democratic engagement

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/the.v1i1.7

Submitted: 16 June 2016
Published: 22 November 2016

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Transformation in Higher Education    |    ISSN: 2415-0991 (PRINT)    |    ISSN: 2519-5638 (ONLINE)