A Study of the Abandonment of Humanities and Social Sciences in South African Universities: [Essay Example], 2395 words GradesFixer
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A Study of the Abandonment of Humanities and Social Sciences in South African Universities

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This paper would like to demystify how the post-apartheid South African universities neglected the Humanities and Social Sciences. How did this neglect affect the entire South African society when institutions of higher learning took such a stance? What is the government, the main funder or sponsor doing about the stance of the universities? In trying to address these challenges, the paper will further show case how the following attempts to address these challenges; namely: the South African Humanities Deans Association (SAHUDA), the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF), the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). The paper will used a mix-mode research approach, a combination of both qualitative and quantitative research. However, qualitative research design with a case study as its research methodology. Interviews and document reviews will be used as the instruments for data collection. At the end the study will either agree or disagree with the hypothesis or assumptions of the study through recommendations based on the findings.


The study of Human conditions and Society (Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) in the new dispensation in South Africa experienced serious challenges. Both the Humanities and Social Sciences experienced a total neglect by the post-apartheid South African universities. The post-apartheid South African universities devoted much of their time and attention on the Sciences, Engineering, Management and Information Technology (SEMIT). It is not surprising or a mistake on the part of the government of the day by providing more support to SEMIT. This was done with the intention of redressing the injustices of the past whereby SEMIT was secluded to former white South Africans. This was something central and closer to the heart of the new government as it wanted to address some of the injustices of the past. The rewarding of research awards in the categories of Science, Technology, Engineering and Management (STEM) model to some extent perpetuated the marginalization of research in the HSS. As it was happening before, more money for research was channeled into STEM with the intention of encouraging researchers. However, this had a negative impact on the growth and development of research in the HSS.

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All these were done by the new government which was passionate in allowing the previously oppressed to get admission into the programmes that were ’strictly meant for the whites’. However, though this was a wise move supported by all especially the previously disadvantaged as it propagated the opening of the doors of education for ALL in regardless of colour, creed, language and race (Freedom Charter, Alison Moodie, 2010,Muzi Khumalo 2011) However, this noble move was done at the expenses of undermining and marginalizing the HSS. This looks like a decision that is primarily aggravated by animosity instead of looking into the proper perspective of the matter.

Most of the pre-apartheid South African Universities if not all supported the agenda of the time whereby discrimination on the basis of colour, language and creed. It is not surprising to see the irrational stance of changing the status quo by the government to address the injustices of the past by not providing funding for the HSS while SEMIT received an enormous financial support. This had a negative impact on the universities through the their vision and mission which also rendered the programs within the HSS not viable hence the drop in the students intake that culminated in retrenchment and recoupment of staff members


Prior to the first democratic and non-sexist elections of 1994, HSS had more students and graduate at South African universities. This was also supported by job opportunities and employment of graduates from the two disciplines. However, the laws of the country by that time discouraged students to enroll for disciplines such as engineering and science on the basis of colour and creed. This status quo angered the black majority of the country as they were sidelined and marginalized, something that new government was totally against.

The new dispensation in South Africa challenged the status quo by opening avenues for everyone in regardless of creed and colour. In order to address some of the challenges of the past, the government started by focusing much on the “no go area” for blacks as a way of demonstrating true liberalism and democracy in South Africa. Sciences, Engineering, Management and Information Technology were given more privilege than the humanities and social sciences. This is buttressed by Moodie 2010 who quotes the Minister of Higher Education and Training Dr Blade Nzimande who uttered the following to support the move taken by the new government with the intention of redressing the imbalances of the past:

“After the fall of apartheid the government neglected the social sciences and humanities and focused instead on rectifying deficits in engineering, the natural sciences, and business to help make South Africa more globally competitive”

Unfortunately the good intentions that the government of South Africa had resulted in academic catastrophe and calamity since HSS were now relegated to the periphery. At institution of higher learning, academic programs and staff in HSS who were in majority started to suffer the consequences of the new dispensation. In some institutions programs were scaled down and some departments were merged (Music, History, Anthropology, Sociology, Political Science and Religious Studies University of Venda), members were retrenched (Northern Sotho, Tshivenda and Xitsonga University of Limpopo) and the fortunate ones were redeployed (African languages University of South Africa). Departments of some disciplines in HSS merged into new departments whereby Anthropology, and Sociology merged with Social Work into a new Department called Social Work, History, Political Science, Philosophy, International Relations, Religious Studies and Development Studies merged into the new department called Development Studies, African Language Departments merged into MER Mathivha Centre for African, Languages Arts Culture. All these happened at UNIVEN. In almost all the institutions of Higher Learning reasons advanced by the management of the institutions were more economic. Pillay and Yu (2010) talk about consumerism in higher education whereby the market forces are more influential and also the determining factor in determining the future of university programs.


The approach adopted by the new government of providing more space and opportunities for the previously sidelined and marginalized disciplines brought more harm than good to the HSS. The post- apartheid South African universities offered more market driven programmes whereby economic return characterized by employment, fame and wealth (Pilley and YU 2010). The failure by the humanities and social science to comply with needs and the demands of the market forces resulted in their total collapse and shrinkage.

The gist of the documents mentioned above primarily raise their genuine concern about the state of the HSS in the post-apartheid South African universities. Since HSS were not performing fairly in terms of the market demands, the two found themselves not important within the South African communities. An organization such as ASSAF has been vocal about the marginalization of HSS in South Africa. The ASSAF Humanities workshop at the University of Stellenbosch (2010) and the conversation between Professor Peter Vale and Dr Blade Nzimande (2010) on the state of the humanities in South Africa are cases to point in the fight for the neglect of humanities in the post-apartheid South African Universities. In his conversation with Professor Peter Vale, The Minister of DHET clearly indicated the importance of critical thinking as well as full support by his ministry on the HSS. Total neglect of the HSS will always result in a society that is without ethics and norms, something which is unacceptable.

The establishment of the South African Humanities Deans Association (SAHUDA) is another signal of a worrying concern from the Deans of Humanities and Social Sciences. This is clearly and vividly communicated in objectives 3.2 and 3.3. of the constitution of SAHUDA. In terms of the objectives mentioned above, SAHUDA would like to see itself playing a significant role in the development of the humanities and social sciences in South Africa as encapstulated in the following objectives of SAHUDA:

3.2. To facilitate the holding of regular meetings of its members at least once each year at which its members can discuss matters of common interest to the management and execution of teaching, learning and research in the Humanities at South African Universities.

3.3. To express the views of its members, after due consultation, when requested or at its own initiative., on matters of concern or interest to humanities education at public universities in South Africa and related matters

However, what is being not taken into consideration is that HSS are both the studies of human conditions and societies based on analytical, critical and empirical approaches respectively. What HSS argue is that disregard and marginalization of the two at the expenses of the promotion of scientist result in the promotion of a normless society. Society ends up with a community of scientists who are normless and also fail to understand as well as to justify about their origin and identity. Despite the fact that HSS are facing serious challenges as far as the market forces are concerned, they are still fundamental and key in the development of a Human being. To crown it all the HSS played a significant during the liberation struggle and they furthermore encourage critical thinking. This view is supported by Nzimande (2011) who views humanities as follows:

“We need people who can think independently, are able to evaluate ideas and who are able to develop creative solutions to problems. The social sciences and humanities are uniquely placed to provide this type of training. Beyond this such, training should include a strong element of ethics and strive to engender in students a concern for the fellow human beings and, in particular, for those who for whatever reason have been deprived of their basic rights—to a decent standard of living and to democratic participation in shaping their lives.”

As much as it is understood and acknowledged that the post-apartheid South African Universities sidelined the HSS, the Ministry of DHET is prepared to rectify this mistake. The quotation cited above vividly communicates as it is also supported by the following quotation from the same ministry on the establishment for the Charter of Humanities:

“The initiative, launched earlier this month, will provide a charter of recommendations for the government outlining how to reassert the social sciences and humanities in higher education. The key aims of the charter, to be completed by the end of June 2011, include the creation of appositive, affirmative statement on these areas of study and an emphasis on the critical role of the liberal arts in creating responsible, ethical and broad-minded citizens.”

The appointment of the task team by the ministry of DHET on the charter for humanities is two folded whereby the ministry acknowledges the existence of the problem. Furthermore, the ministry is prepared to address this challenge hence the initiation for the charter of humanities in higher education.


The initiatives of establishing a task Team led by Professor Ari Sitas (UCT) and assisted by Dr Sarah Mosoetsa (Wits) confirms that the post-apartheid South African Universities neglected the HSS. As much as this concern is observed and recognized by the ministry of DHET, the neglect is not something that perhaps hit or affected the institutions of higher learning by having a negative impact on the growth and development of universities. This had far reaching consequences as the entire South African community is adversely affected by this. As much as other scholars argue on the fact that HSS are not in danger based on the Council on Higher Education (CHE) statistics which is 40%bsed on the current overall student population, the crack of the matter is HSS experienced some serious challenges in the new South Africa. In his foreword of the charter for humanities report, the Minister of DHET acknowledges that despite the current debate about the status of HSS in the post-apartheid South Africa, based on various reasons which the current overall student population plan, the fact of the matter is that:

It is clear to anyone who is a public, social, or political activist-as I am- that Humanities and Social Sciences in the post 1994 period are playing a less prominent role in public discourse than they did during the late apartheid period. They seem to also to play a less prominent role in the lives of students, guiding their thinking about the crucial issues that face them as students or as citizens concerned about the future of their societies.

Based on the terms of reference, the findings and the recommendations of the task team of the charter for humanities including also the views of the advisory and reference groups, the DHET in collaboration with other ministries need to work together to make sure that HSS reclaims its space in the academia.

It is also encouraging to note that for the first time in the history of the National Research Foundation (NRF), that the 2011 application for research chair were open for African Languages. Another milestone is that as from 2012 NRF in collaboration with Department of Science and Technology (DST) will fund internships in Humanities and Social Sciences.


The assumption of the neglect of the HSS in the post-apartheid Universities is a worrying concern which does not affect South African universities only. It looks like a global issue where HSS are marginalized at the expenses of SEMIT. However, this not a battle or a concern that affects academics in these disciplines globally the ministries of higher education are concerned about this challenge, hence, globally there is a joint approach in addressing the problem.

The neglect of HSS in the post-apartheid South Africa made some scholars to be skeptical in term of the vision, mission and mandate of the new government of South Africa. The HSS played a significant role of bringing the country and its entire population where it is now in terms of political emancipation. The HSS played a significant role during the liberation struggle as it educated the community about issues such as political rights, history, origin and identity.

Finally, the split of the ministries into basic and higher education appears to be a blessing in disguise. This provides each ministry with more time to deal with issues are pertinent and thorny to the entire community. The conclusion of the Charter of Humanities reports with all its recommendations is seriously going to address some of the critical issues about the future and status of HSS in South Africa.

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A Study of the Abandonment of Humanities and Social Sciences in South African Universities. (2018, October 22). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 6, 2021, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-study-of-the-abandonment-of-humanities-and-social-sciences-in-south-african-universities/
“A Study of the Abandonment of Humanities and Social Sciences in South African Universities.” GradesFixer, 22 Oct. 2018, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-study-of-the-abandonment-of-humanities-and-social-sciences-in-south-african-universities/
A Study of the Abandonment of Humanities and Social Sciences in South African Universities. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-study-of-the-abandonment-of-humanities-and-social-sciences-in-south-african-universities/> [Accessed 6 May 2021].
A Study of the Abandonment of Humanities and Social Sciences in South African Universities [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Oct 22 [cited 2021 May 6]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-study-of-the-abandonment-of-humanities-and-social-sciences-in-south-african-universities/
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