More Law, Less Justice? The Difficulties of Transforming Institutions and Embedding a Culture of Human Rights: A Case Study of Racism in South African Universities

(January 2015)

Mahomed, F. & Matthews, T. (2015). Political Crossroads, Vol 22, 1,2015, pp 23-41(19)

Institutions of higher education have a special role to play not only in generating knowledge of human rights but, more importantly, in inculcating a culture of human rights. Moreover, by virtue of their place in society as spaces that foster thought leadership and knowledge generation, they can make a significant contribution in ensuring that this culture becomes embedded more broadly. This role is of particular importance in South Africa, where constitutional literacy remains low and where human rights education remains nascent. Notwithstanding the responsibility that arises out of their position, human rights violations continue to occur on South Africa’s university campuses. Moreover, despite efforts at instituting policy and institutional changes, numerous incidents still occur which render the transformation of institutional cultures questionable. This paper considers the efforts undertaken by the University of the Free State’s Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, established after a widely publicised racist incident took place at the institution’s Reitz residence in 2008. It considers the numerous policy and practical interventions that have since been instituted at the university, before considering incidents that occurred since the initiation of these numerous efforts. In so doing, it considers the challenges that arise in attempts to shift institutional cultures, despite the development of laws, policies and focal points. Reflecting on information from written, oral and legal sources, it is concluded that numerous institutional, epistemic, social and cultural barriers continue to impede the advancement of substantive equality due to a lack of emphasis on shifting lived experiences along with formal entitlements. Read more