Durban - A lack of reading and critical thinking among student leaders had led to widespread violence and destructive protests at universities, said Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande.
Nzimande was addressing the opening of the Second National Higher Education Transformation Summit in Durban on Thursday.
He said in most cases members of student representative councils engaged in debate intending to disagree with university managements, instead of being open-minded. He said this was because student leaders did not read enough.
“While you march and demonstrate, read and develop tools of analysis, which is crucial, because you often burn buildings when you can’t argue any more.”
He said that when he was a student leader at the University of Zululand, student leaders were critical thinkers. They would go out of their way to find appropriate books to read and build their minds to be able to engage with the management.
“Some of us would look for literature called Marxism. This would open our minds and enable us to be better human beings.”
Nzimande said the department had started a student leadership academy to help SRC members with thinking and negotiating skills.
“We urge you to make use of this to better inform and equip yourselves to lead various students bodies,” he said.
He lashed out at the violent protests at learning institutions as being un-African, as they caused destruction of infrastructure which students should be protecting for future generations.
“We urge all members of the higher education community to treat each other with respect, and conduct difficult and painful debates in a humane and constructive manner.
Nzimande also called on the summit to come up with a strategy to deal with Afrikaans culture at some universities. He said this should not be interpreted as an attack on Afrikaans-speaking people.
“I wish to emphatically reject the notion that a move away from the ethnic past and outlook of our universities constitutes an attack on the Afrikaans language and Afrikaner culture.
“Afrikaans and Afrikaner culture are under no attack, but these, like all others, have to be exercised in multicultural and multilingual environments that are part of our African reality.”
He said it was disappointing that at the University of Zululand there were no white, coloured or Indian students.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday that higher learning institutions should open doors to more black students, lecturers, professors and researchers.
However, this did not mean excluding white students.
“If we are to be a truly non-racial society, it should be our task as leaders to make sure that we represent the true non-racial character of our country at the institutions we lead,” said Ramaphosa.
Wits University’s vice-chancellor, Professor Adam Habib, said he expected the summit to come up with resolutions that would influence policies of higher education.
“Student financing is one of the biggest challenges, and cultural alienation of black students is also a major challenge.
“We need to have a strategic plan which all the institutions can apply,” he said.
* E-mail your opinion to [email protected] and we will consider it for publication or use our Facebook and Twitter pages to comment on our stories. See links below.