Let’s talk equality – NWU Vaal
The word ‘equality’ may seem easy to define, but the concept thereof might just be one of the most difficult things that people around the world grapple with on a daily basis.
What makes it so difficult to grasp is the fact that equality can have different meanings depending on the field of study or society in which it is being used. This week saw the Vaal Triangle Campus of the North-West University (NWU Vaal) join other universities in South Africa in celebrating the annual Universities South Africa (previously known as HESA) National Campaign Day focusing on the Constitutional Right to Equality.
Universities South Africa approved 11 August as the national campaign day for the higher education sector. The purpose of the annual day is for the sector to come together to demonstrate united action related to transformation. This year's focus is on reasonable steps and effective mechanisms to lower social barriers to access, success and quality higher education.
Yes Equality Campaign
During this time the Campus launched a “Yes Equality” Campaign which included online discussions and a radio campaign during which various stakeholders shared their thoughts and interpretations on the topic of equality. The campaign also saw a special lecture being hosted by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR).
Equality: the dialogue
The Campus furthermore launch a “Yes Equality” online and radio campaign which saw staff and students sharing their thoughts and interpretations on the topic of equality throughout the week. Here is what some of the respondents had to say:
- Mr Hendrik Steyn, visually impaired staff member of the Directorate Student Counselling and Development (SCD)
Every person has the right to equity, no matter what their sex, religion or disability status. The right to equity for me is to be treated the same as every other person in South African society. When you look at a person with a disability do not pity them. You do not pity your neighbour for being what he/she is. You treat him/her like a person. Do the same for people no matter what their status. Learn to look pass the disability (they did not ask for it), look pass their religion or sexual orientation. What you see of a person constitutes only ten percent of them -- the rest is hidden to you. Learn to see the human behind the rest and remember: We all want to be loved, we all need food, clothing and other basic necessities. In short: We all are human, we all need the same things and we all want to be treated with respect, dignity and the right to equity.
- Ms Wilma du Toit, lecturer within the Faculty of Economic Sciences and Information Technology and Rapport Top Lecturer
For me, Jesus is a role model with regards to equality. He said that we must not look at a person’s outward appearance to decide how we will treat him/her. He said we should not let the rich sit at a nice spot and let the poor sit at our feet. We should treat all people with love and respect – whether they are rich or poor, intelligent or mentally disabled, healthy or sick, attractive or not, male or female, the same race as you or not, the same religion as you or not, supporting the same political party as you or not.
Every person has the right to be treated with dignity and respect. To treat people equally should not only be done because the law requires a person or a company to do so, it should be a way of life for each of us. And while most of us may agree with it, it can sometimes really be a challenge to actually do it.
It also means to me that no person or group of people are above the law. If a person breaks the law, he should be handled the same way as another offender, irrespective of status, gender, race, religion.
- Prof Tinie Theron, Executive Dean: Faculty Humanities
Equal opportunity – for men and women of all races – is non-negotiable. Anybody with a sense of fairness would acknowledge this. What is, perhaps, a little less obvious is that realizing equal opportunity demands that men and women of all races have access to ‘insider’ knowledge that often limits how well people, who are not part of the hegemonic system, can optimize so-called equal opportunities. Without such insight, equal opportunity will simply be a hollow ideal. Thus, when we have been privileged to be ‘insiders’, it is our duty to support equal opportunity for all those who were/are excluded, also by sharing the inside story/stories of how best to maximize opportunity.
- Prof Herman van der Merwe, Executive Dean: Faculty of Economic Sciences and IT
The bhive Enterprise Development Centre (bhive EDC) in the Faculty developed and implemented an entrepreneurial development programme aimed specifically at females to address their Right to Equality, this programme has been offered on an annual basis since 2013.
The Female Entrepreneurship Programme is an eight month programme geared to provide business support services to women who wish to establish their own businesses. Participants are taken through a structured programme to explore ideas, develop a business model and putting the wheels in motion to initiate and operationalise the business. Participants become part of a peer network of women embarking on an entrepreneurial journey, where they can share experiences and learn from one another and other successful female entrepreneurs by being exposed to structured learning through workshops and group-centred learning.
- Prof Linda du Plessis, Vice-Rector
Rights are rights laid down in laws. Laws are made by parliament and they may give people certain rights. For example, it was once a legal right to own slaves because there were laws that allowed this, even though it went against the human rights of the people who were slaves.
There are also moral rights. For example, even though people over a certain age may have a legal right to drink alcohol, others may believe that they do not have a moral right to do so.
To create an equal society, we should adhere to legal laws and have high moral standards. Less people will be killed if people adhere to the speed limit and do not drive under the influence of alcohol. The fact is, society will be a better place for all of us if we do unto others as we would have them done unto us. Once we do that, we will have a solid base to tackle broader societal issues and we can all do our part to create a future where every individual has equal access to quality education.
- Dr Ilyayambwa Mwanawina, lecturer within the Faculty Humanities
In 1776, the US Declaration of Independence coined the famous statement “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…..” This was not the genesis of the idea of equality but the phrase “we hold these truths to be self-evident” deserves closer consideration than mere lip service. The essence of this statement means that equality in all its manifestations is a virtue that subscribes to a form of justification that is non-inferential. It is a virtue that does not require to be reasoned into existence as it has reached universal acceptance in both natural and man-made laws. The strength and fortitude of equity as a virtue against evils perpetrated by humankind has been repeated throughout history, from the Haitian Revolution of 1791, the Demerara Revolution of 1823, and the fall of Nazi supremacy to mention a few.
The South African story in all its different forms is also worth mentioning in this regard. All these regimes had invested resources to sustain their form of imperfect equity but eventually the right form of equity that is not dependent on human reasoning prevailed. The obligation placed by the South African Constitution on judicial officers or anyone in a position of influence is to always seek the best form of equity in light of Section 9. When administrators, government or the private sector fall short of this virtue they do not only fail the Constitution but risk falling on the wrong side of history.
- Ms Prem Coopoo, Dean of Students
Fundamentally, it is the right of every individual to exercise personal choices and to access opportunities available to all others. With equality comes respect and dignity for all.