File picture: Thobile Mathonsi/ANA

Pretoria - The public hearing into allegations of discrimination, racism, sexism and  harassment at Unisa has heard how a senior academic was constantly accused of being a racist and white supremacist.

Professor Melodie Labuschaigne this week told the panel that she was accused of preventing transformation at the College of Law. She said she had formally lodged complaints with the university, and that there were some black colleagues who made it hard for her to do her job when she was acting as dean of the faculty.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is investigating claims of discrimination, racism, sexism and harassment at Unisa. Its findings are expected by April 18.

Labuschaigne told the panel that members of the Black Forum protested against her and tarnished her name. She was harassed by certain black colleagues and made to fear going to her office numerous times last year, she testified.

Labuschaigne remained convinced that not enough was done to deal with those who conducted themselves inappropriately and unprofessionally in venting frustrations against her.

However, some black academics disputed her claims and labelled the College of Law a white supremacy and privilege stronghold.

The SAHRC provincial manager Buang Jones said they would submit the written recommendations of the investigation to Unisa.

Unisa vice-chancellor and principal Professor Mandla Makhanya invited the SAHRC to investigate the claims of racial tensions between academics at the faculty.

Hearings started on February 20, and the SAHRC subsequently invited staff, unions and management to make oral and written submissions to the investigating panel.

Jones told the Pretoria News that allegations of widespread racism and lack of transformation at Unisa led the commission to broaden the scope and investigate the entire institution. “We see this as a long-term process, and not one whereby we will make recommendations and then move on. We want to ensure that recommendations are followed and if not, we will utilise our power as per the constitution.

“This hearing has also brought to light problems and racial tensions from other tertiary institutions across the country.

"This hearing should present tertiary institutions with the opportunity to realise that they need to play a leading role in employment equality transformation,” he said.

Black Forum members said the panel would come across shocking evidence of racism as the hearing unfolded, and hoped that swift action would be taken against racists.

Pretoria News