Probe the identity-based transformation question deeper” – Ebrahim Fakir

Annette Willemse -- Mon, 10/05/2015 - 14:20

"Probe the identity-based transformation question deeper" – Ebrahim Fakir

The recent South African Association for Political Studies (SAAPS) regional symposium – held on the Vaal Triangle Campus of the North-West University (NWU Vaal), proved yet again that robust debate is considered good for democracy and, in the same vein, good for development. 

Mr Ebrahim Fakir addressing delegates at the SAAPS regional symposium Mr Ebrahim Fakir

The symposium represented a collaborative effort between the University of the Free State (UF) and North-West University. The theme of the 2015 regional symposium was: “Trends in global political development and constitutionalism.” Well-known political analyst, Ebrahim Fakir was the keynote speaker at the symposium and the topic of his address was: “Contemporary South African politics: Is there a retreat from ideas to identities?”

According to Fakir - the Manager: Governance, Institutions and Processes at the Institute for Sustainable Democracy in South Africa (EISA), the answer to the above mentioned question is without a doubt “yes”.  

Fakir explained that the laden phrase “identity politics” have come to signify a wide range of political activity founded in the shared experiences of injustice of members of certain social groups. Rather than organising solely around belief systems, programmatic manifestos, or party affiliation, identity political formations typically aim to secure the political freedom of a specific and clearly defined constituency.  In the previous two decades South Africa was predominantly viewed as an idealistic state, however this did not resolve the so-called triple societal threat, namely: poverty, inequality and unemployment. This weighs heavily on the social, political and economic fabric of the country.

It is within this sphere that the emergence of identity-based politics is emerging.

In his address Fakir mentioned examples of different South African universities – both liberal and conservative in nature, which have been making headlines during the past years. These examples include the University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University, Rhodes, University of the Free State and even the North-West University. Campaigns such as “Rhodes must fall”, “Open Stellenbosch” and the racism outrage after the alleged Nazi salute incident at the North-West University are all – according to Fakir, examples of public outcries for social transformation within higher education.

“If you probe the question of social transformation within higher education further, and scratch beyond the mere surface, it would seem as if there is no real sense of what this envisioned transformation must be. Should it be a transformation of admissions, access or curriculum? If the curriculum is seen as the target of transformation then surely there should be a certain epistemology that under scribes this change? This probative approach leads one to yet another question: should there be a different method in which the outcomes or standards of tuition are measured in Africa and in, for example, Europe? The answer is a definite ‘no!’”

From the above mentioned example, Fakir explains that there is a normative disadvantage associated with a retreat into identity politics. “Suggesting a retreat into identity based politics can have dangerous effects on social progress since it retards the way in which reconciliation and redress unfold.

The importance of the field of social sciences – and more specific, political sciences, was further highlighted by Fakir. 

Dr Jan-Carel Venter, Mr Ebrahim Fakir, Dr Ina Gouws and Prof Herman van der Elst