The original text of this article in The Daily Maverick.
A Higher Education summit hosted by the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, is taking place at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology on April 22 and 23. Much of the focus at the summit will be on “transformation”, one of the more flexible words you’ll encounter while working at a South African university. This is saying a lot, especially since many departments – at my university at least – still seem completely enamoured by the liberating brew of postmodernism, which of course allows for infinite lexical flexibility.
Perhaps this is simply another example of political correctness gone awry – we all know that transformation relates primarily to race, but to explicitly say so may be impolitic, in that colour-blindness is a virtue that we’re all meant to be aspiring to, even in cases where economic inequalities premised on race persist. Instead, transformation becomes code for various social issues, and allows us to collapse concerns around equity, throughput, policies on wheelchair ramps, and whatever else does not currently have its own committee under one handy banner.
For example, the most recent message from the Transformation Officer in my Faculty related to the “Executive Secretaries and Personal Assistants International Symposium”, which I had a difficult time relating to anything obviously to do with transformation. But then, perhaps I’m not transformed myself, or perhaps I’m simply insufficiently postmodern.