Cultivating an Equal Opportunity Society

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When the first democratic elections in the history of the country took place in 1994 South Africa captured the imagination of the world by plucking the country from the brink of imminent destruction. It succeeded in achieving a peaceful transition to democracy from the probability of protracted discord and violence that were extremely high. This was a laudable triumph for human dignity as well as a triumph against all forms of discrimination, more so because, for the first time in the history of South Africa, there was a common South African citizenship for all ( Republic of South Africa (RSA), 1996, Clause 3(2) : 3).

A new Constitution was adopted which states categorically that "To promote the achievement of equality, legislative and other measures designed to protect or advance

persons,

discrimination

or

categories

of

persons,

disadvantaged

by

unfair

may be taken" (RSA, 1996, Clause 9(2) : 7). This ushered in a new

set of values that led to an emphatic and fundamental break from the past. To meet the challenges enshrined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the principle of Affirmative Action was introduced which Fleming et al. (1978 : 3) so aptly describe as "a natural extension of the long struggle for equal rights".

The Preamble to the Constitution spells out that the purpose of the new dispensation is to:

" ... heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights; lay the foundations

for a democratic

and open society

in which

government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by the law; improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person, and build a united democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations."

During the past eight years it has become apparent that the intent and spirit of the Constitution

can only be realized through. tremendous effort and purposeful action.

One area that requires such tremendous
Education.

In establishing

effort and purposeful

action is Higher

a non-racial society, based on the Constitution

that

embodies equal rights for every person, the need to establish an equitable and effective

Higher

Education

system

becomes

a top priority.

This

requires

a

transformation process that will necessitate the management of cultural diversity and bring about organizational changes within institutions of Higher Education.

Education in South Africa, prior to 1994, was segregated along racial lines.

The

apartheid system of social engineering ensured that non-Whites were denied equal access to what was referred to as White institutions and an education of quality. The Higher Education system in South Africa is currently in a state of transformation and will, in the foreseeable future, be under pressure to provide access to both staff and students and quality education for all the people in the country.

New pieces of legislation, namely the Labour Relations Act, the Employment Equity Act, the Higher Education Act, the White Paper on Affirmative Action and other national documents such as that of the Council on Higher Education (CHE) on Size and Shape, present new challenges to Higher Education institutions especially with respect to employment and promotion of staff. Student demonstrations and union protests directly related to employment of academic staff have already been experienced

at many

institutions of Higher Education and continue to plague them as they make attempts to

meet the transformation challenges.
imbalances

Much, therefore, needs to be done to redress the

caused by the apartheid

education

system.

Although

most Higher

Education institutions would like to claim that they have amended their recruitment policies in order to align them to the new...
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