The Pitfall of the ‘Transformation’ Agenda

After reading the article “Hard Truths About Race On Campus” by the Wall Street Journal, I couldn’t but help think of the conflict and battles happening in South Africa over Transformation in universities, private companies or national sporting associations. All these Transformation initiatives are being touted...

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After reading the article “Hard Truths About Race On Campusby the Wall Street Journal, I couldn’t but help think of the conflict and battles happening in South Africa over Transformation in universities, private companies or national sporting associations. All these Transformation initiatives are being touted and enforced with the best intentions. But they will fall far short of their goals, no matter how well-meaning they are.

I feel I have to begin by introducing the reader to what Transformation is. There are many theories doing the rounds, but the recurring theme as can be observed by mainstream news commentary from various sources and parties: it is the idea that South Africa has a nasty past where a majority of its citizens were excluded from activities like joining national sporting associations, occupying certain jobs or gaining university entry based on their race. In an effort to restore past wrongs, legislation and policy has to be enacted to address this. And the best way of doing this is to ensure that all spheres of the economy, academia or sport, are to represent the national demographics of the country. It has its good intentions but it overlooks certain facts about humans that psychologist Dr. Jussim of Rutgers University has observed:

“A basic principle of psychology is that people pay more attention to information that predicts important outcomes in their lives. A key social factor that we human beings track is who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them’. In classic studies, researchers divided people into groups based on arbitrary factors such as a coin toss. They found that, even with such trivial distinctions, people discriminated in favor of their in-group members.”

Now, this doesn’t mean that mankind is doomed to discriminate based on race, but what it does mean, is that we will always be cognizant of our racial differences, which is why I find the leftist view on diversity totally daft. The view of the left is that I’m a racist if I were to pick mates of my own colour for group assignments, or a nationalist if I picked mates of my own nation. Research also found that race became less of a factor in people choosing to associate, if they shared other characteristics like membership in a club, etc. I have personally seen this as a member of a Durban-based shooting club. We all associated based on our love of firearms and shooting them, and worried less about our racial differences. Members were rated according to their shooting skills and abilities. It was also interesting that members also cared less about economic class. What united us was our hobby for shooting lead down range.

Another important fact the Transformation agenda overlooks is:

“A second principle of psychology is the power of cooperation. When groups face a common threat or challenge, it tends to dissolve enmity and create a mind-set of ‘one for all, all for one’. Conversely, when groups are put into competition with each other, people readily shift into zero-sum thinking and hostility.”

The Transformation agenda inadvertently pits people against each other. This could explain recent media articles and stories of racially-charged incidents and attacks. In this climate of hostility, the Matt Theunissen or the Ntokozo Qwabe incidents, become clear examples of what zero-sum thinking can lead to. I mentioned earlier that one of the recurring goals of the Transformation agenda is that the economy, academia and sports have to mirror the nation’s demographics. But many have not looked at what will happen if we were to meet these targets. The targets are possible; but that would mean placing more emphasis on race rather than individuals. That’s the end game that the politically correct media pundits refuse to concede to.

But let’s analyse this further. The Transformation agenda is being practiced by universities at the moment, notably the University of Cape Town (UCT), who have different academic admissions based on race or background. This creates a notable difference in academic readiness of candidates. In all fairness, UCT does try to gauge academic readiness with the NBT . But it still has different expectations and criteria for different races. This leads to students spending roughly four years in a hostile environment where their race becomes a social cue of their competence or capacity. Hence, we can see the protest actions and acts of vandalism on our campuses by groups like Rhodes Must Fall or Open Stellenbosch, etc. These students have been put in an environment where they feel they are set up to fail or to be the object of ridicule. Instead of the anger being directed at the expedient nature of the Transformation agenda, they end up committing acts which further portray them as pariahs. The irony in all of this, is that the racial gaps end up being wider, where students start self-segregating into ‘safe-spaces’ and form fewer inter-racial friendships.

Asking people to ‘check their privilege’ is not going to aid the Transformation agenda at all, nor will anti-racist (racism is already an offense) laws help. However, one way of improving racial relations in some way, is to focus on our common characteristics and do away with policies that give away a person’s level of competence or capacity based on race. In order for this to happen, quotas will have to give way to the emphasis on being fit-for-purpose (merit). The United States Army has achieved this and no one can look at a black officer and dare say that they are incompetent. The U.S Army had racial fallouts even post-segregation in the 1960s. The Army invested more resources in mentoring black soldiers so they could meet the promotion standards of the Army. The standards were never dropped; this meant that no racial cue of competence took place. An emphasis on cooperation and positive sum thinking brought in more harmony to an army that had an environment of racial hostility.

I implore civil society to use a similar approach, so that race will become less of a social cue.


* Hard Truths About Race on Campus by Jonathan Haidt and Lee Jussim

* Can race be erased? Coalitional computation and social categorization by Robert Kurzban, John Tooby, and Leda Cosmides,

* All That We Can Be (1996) by Charles Moskos and John Sibley.

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  1. Harald Sitta Reply

    Very instructive. I may say that the author is a technician students says us something the studies where you have to think in a structured way and studies for a certain jargon and phrases are sufficient, like sociology, pol science, journalism, and son …..

    1. Malusi Ndwandwe Reply

      The ironic thing is I try to shy away from being too technical…

      1. Harald Sitta Reply

        And i try to shy away from being too juristic. But you know my point …:-)

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