The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa ~ Can ‘New’ Meet ‘Old’? VU-South Africa, 1976-Present: Development Cooperation In Southern Africa

In his paper, Brinkman provides an overview of the roots of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam’s (VU) development cooperation activities in southern Africa in the second half of the 1970s. Upon cancelling the cooperation agreement with Potchefstroom University in 1976, the VU decided to develop links with other universities in the Southern African region. The idea was to aim at universities that were playing a clear role in the development of black leadership for the future of the sub-continent. As ‘black’ universities inside South Africa were also heavily influenced by ‘apartheid’ policies, the choice was made to look towards universities in surrounding countries. The first cooperation links were established with the universities in Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho. As Brinkman also indicates, these new links fitted well into the new Dutch national policies for development cooperation, as they emerged during Jan Pronk’s first period as Minister for Development Cooperation in the 1970s. Pronk established a new funding channel for cooperation links between Dutch universities and universities in developing countries.

Brinkman identifies some themes in the history of the relationship between the VU and South Africa:
* The flourishing of development cooperation activities at the VU, particularly, but not exclusively, in southern Africa;
* The emergence of particular focal areas for development cooperation at the VU based on the needs of partner institutions;
* The return of the VU to South Africa after the Wende in the early 1990s;
* ‘New’ meeting ‘old’ in South Africa (and vice versa), in terms both of themes and of partner institutions;
* The challenges posed to universities because of the emergence of the ‘knowledge society’ and the consequences this may have for a traditional academic organisation.

The purpose of this paper is twofold:
1. To illustrate Brinkman’s themes in one particular focal area of development cooperation at the VU, namely basic science education;
2. To raise some fundamental issues regarding development cooperation in Dutch universities, the position of such cooperation at the VU, and its role in South Africa.

In the Netherlands, both the position of universities and the development cooperation policies have undergone fundamental changes over the decades since the 1970s, and particularly in the 1990s. The question raised here is whether ‘new’ can really still meet ‘old’, and what would be needed for that to happen.
Basic science education is only one of the focal areas in development cooperation at the VU. Other prominent fields of cooperation are in natural resource management (soil and water conservation, land reform, community based natural resource management, water harvesting, and land husbandry), in university management development, and in the use of ICT in higher education institutions.
In natural resource management, strong links also exist in South Africa, particularly with the Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape. In university management development, there are cooperation links in South Africa with the University of the North and with North West University, and with the University of Pretoria (1999-2001). Some work in this field has also been done at the University of the Free State.

The choice of this paper for basic science education is explained by the fact that it has been the largest individual area of work over the decades, and that it most clearly demonstrates a few of the fundamental tensions regarding the relationship between universities and development cooperation. Read more

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The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa ~ A ‘New’ History For A ‘New’ South Africa

Historians need not worry about a lack of work in the future. There is always a past in the future. And their duty is to study that past, sine ira et studio, as Tacitus put it nearly 2000 years ago. The study of history, as my colleague and eminent historian Van Deursen likes to say, is to do justice to the dead, our fellow men, and at the same time to always be aware of the Biblical warning: you will be judged by the same measure. Historiography is not about blaming the past for our contemporary problems, nor about finding arguments there to bolster our political or religious plicies and philosophies. Nevertheless, everybody agrees that the knowledge of history is useful. A society without history is like an individual with loss of memory, walking like a blind person on unknown territory, doomed to fall step after step. Everybody also accepts that historical knowledge changes; history is a never ending debate, as Pieter Geyl has taught. So we do understand and accept that a ‘new’ South Africa needs a ‘new’ history. Is there a place in that new history for the Netherlands, for Dutch historiography, for the historians of the Vrije Universiteit (VU)?

In the old South Africa, there was a place for the Dutch historians, a modest but constructive place. Cape history cannot be studied without the Dutch archives, nor without knowledge and understanding of Dutch history, society and culture; the same holds for important aspects of the history of the Boer Republics and the history of Afrikaner religion and culture (literature etc.). Three generations of Afrikaner academic historians either originated from the Netherlands or had studied there – to start with the first generation: Godee Molsbergen and the Flemish Blommaert, and later Dirk Bax; next, the generation of J.P. van der Merwe, F.J. du Toit and F.A. van Jaarsveld, and then the third generation: Hermann Giliomee, Ben Liebenberg, Piet van der Schyff and Fransjohan Pretorius, to name but a few. All this means, additionally, that in the old South Africa there was a modest place for a small number of Dutch historians, as a promotor, colleague, or critic. And sometimes as a supplier of commemorative articles, such as VU historians A.A. van Schelven and H. Smitskamp in 1952 – and myself too, recently, publishing an article on the relations between Abraham Kuyper and president Paul Kruger in Die Kerkblad. Read more

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The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa ~ A ‘New’ Literature

Mister Chair, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for the invitation to speak at this important conference. I have been asked to tell you something about my own experience of teaching South African literature at Dutch universities, but also to give an indication of what South African literature departments might be expecting from the Vrije Universiteit (VU) and other Dutch universities at this point in time. This I do as someone who is South African born and bred and who taught at a South African university for 16 years. Every year I go back to South Africa at least once and I have many friends who are also colleagues in Afrikaans and Nederlands departments in South Africa. For various reasons they are suffering severe cutbacks. In the Humanities Faculties at Dutch universities a similar pinch is being felt.

What strategies should be developed in beleaguered times? In searching for an answer I would like to draw our attention for a minute to the rich tradition of so-called extra muros departments of Dutch all over the world: Barcelona, Budapest, Goa, Helsinki, Jakarta, Johannesburg, Jerusalem, London, Los Angeles, Münster, Oldenburg, Olomouc, Oporto, Oslo, Paris, Stellenbosch, Semarang, Strasburg, St Petersburg, Vienna – to name but a few cities where Dutch literature is taught. The differentiating terms intra muros (which refers to the universities in the ‘centre’ – the Netherlands and Belgium) and extra muros (the term refers to the universities outside the walls of the centre; on the ‘margins’) are soundly entrenched in the workings of the Society of Netherlandic Studies. The same has recently become true for the teaching of South African literature. English literature by authors such as Coetzee and Fugard has of course been part of English colonial curricula for many years and I will mainly focus on the new post-apartheid status of Afrikaans literature. It is taught intra muros at South African universities of course and since 1990 extra muros in many different countries all over the world: Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the USA, Austria, Germany, Russia, Belgium and the Netherlands, to name but a few.

My reference to muros, to walls, has inspired my thinking along Trojan horse lines. I believe that we must be innovative in schemes to get inside the walls of learning but once we are there, to look out again, over the wall, to enable us to invite each other in, so that in the end there are no walls any more. Let me now say something about the linguistic and academic relationship between Afrikaans and Dutch.

Afrikaans, as you know, is a maverick, a wayward daughter of 17th century Dutch. In South Africa the mother was held in high esteem during many years. When I was a student and lecturer at Stellenbosch and Wits, and even now still at many of the ten odd Afrikaans and Nederlands departments in South Africa, a fifty-fifty Dutch and Afrikaans literature course is offered. Afrikaans and Nederlands departments often advertise themselves as offering students a venster op Europa, a ‘room with a view on Europe’. The reverse situation never existed, and was practically unthinkable especially during the 1970s and 1980s. In the Netherlands of those years very few lecturers and even fewer students were interested in Afrikaans literature, or should I say, very few dared to be interested because of the cultural boycott against South Africa. There were a few exceptions. In some institutes of Comparative Literature, for example in Nijmegen, Hans Ester did his utmost to include Afrikaans literature in his courses. In Amsterdam a special chair of Afrikaans literature existed at the University of Amsterdam where professor N.P van Wyk Louw and his successors taught Afrikaans literature. These doctoraal lectures were, however, mainly attended by South Africans who came to study at the feet of the guru Louw. During the early 1980s the Dutch cultural and economic boycott of South Africa finally forced the Afrikaans section to close down. Read more

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The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa ~ A New Size Of Theology For A New South Africa

In Africa, religion is far more influential than in Europe. Although secularisation is increasing in South Africa, most people are still religious, and religion has a great impact on their lives and decisions. Building a new South African society without taking religion into account would be a serious omission.

Theology is not the same as religion. Theology is a critical reflection on religious beliefs and attitudes and on the actions and decisions that result from these convictions. It is because of this critical function that theology has an extremely significant role to play in the new South Africa. Theology was an important part of the old South Africa as well, and because it did not fulfill its critical task then, it will have to play an even greater role now.

I see four main areas in which theology could be developed in South Africa. That does not mean (as will become clear below) that I support them all.

1. Theology of reassurance
A dominant aim of many theologians in present-day South Africa is to provide certainty for people that feel uneasy. This kind of theology is dominant within the Dutch Reformed Church (but not restricted to it). It is a theology that sustains people who have been feeling uncertain since the political changes. It is a modern form of the old-fashioned theology of providence: God will care for you. Amidst the tensions of society – crime, unemployment and worry for retirement funds – we find rest in the church. Theology can help to provide concepts of community building for those people who feel uneasy or to divert them from societal problems by focusing on traditional questions of individual faith. Religion can be helpful by keeping people calm – not only the labourers but also people who were usually dominant in the past and who are nowadays anxious. And theology, both in its modern shape of pastoral care and in its conservative form of focusing on a-contextual questions, can be supportive to shield people from shocking questions.

It is this type of theology that church leaders prefer if they want to keep things under control. And they are now in need for such a theology, because things run the risk of careening out of control as a result of differing views about the new South Africa.

This is an uncritical theology that will not contribute to the future. It has to be rejected, not only because it does not contribute to society building (it might seem to do so by keeping society stable in the short term), but also because it is insufficient. It hides the real problems. If a church leader attempts to conceal problems, at least a professional theologian should unmask this cloaking of the real questions. A striking example of this kind of theology can be found in the declaration about church unity that was accepted by the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church two weeks ago [October 2004]. They argue that the way is now open for a quick re-unification with the formerly black and brown churches. The first reason they give is: ‘Because we have a common history’. Obviously, there was nobody critical enough to raise the question: ‘What is this common history exactly? And should that history not be defined as a history of conflicts, of oppression and of suffering?’ So ‘in spite of a common history’ would be more befitting in this case. Much theological work still needs to be done before unity can be attained – helped by, at any rate, a different type of theology. Read more

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The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa ~ The Meaning Of Traditions For Future VU-Policy In South Africa?

The organisers of the Conference proposed that this paper[i] should reflect on future relations between the Vrije Universiteit (VU) and South Africa (SA), ‘with an eye for and knowledge of the traditions in which we stand and operate’.[ii] Amongst some others, I will address three aspects to uncover the importance of relations for the future South Africa-Vrije Universiteit involvement. As will be indicated, such relations are intimately linked to the traditions in which we stand, but they are also in need of redirection. For this, I will develop a few case studies, deliberately using relations between the Vrije Universiteit and South Africa as examples. This will inevitably bring relations with Afrikaners specifically into focus, but the lessons learnt should be applicable with regard to future relations with all South Africans and all institutions in South Africa in general. This is important because it is premised that the SAVUSA (South Africa-Vrije Universiteit-Strategic Alliances) programme interprets future relations with South Africa in the widest possible sense. The following aspects were accordingly selected for reflection:

The first aspect relates to the context that is defined for the new initiative at the Vrije Universiteit, and is expressed by the last part (-SA) of the SAVUSA acronym, namely ‘Strategic Alliances’. Although this aspect was not included by the organisers in the title proposed for this paper, I will address it in the first section as it is of importance in evaluating past traditions, as well as for planning of future relations.

The second aspect deals with the role of traditions. The key issue is whether traditions have any meaning, positive or negative, when consideration is given on the formation of strategic alliances. The long history of interactions between the Vrije Universiteit and South Africa, specifically with regard to the recent past, opens up ample opportunity to reflect on the role of traditions.

The title implies that the Vrije Universiteit wishes to deepen its relationship with South Africa. Relationships are influenced by traditions, but encompass a broader dimension. The context mentioned above implies a thorough-going reconsideration of existing relations, with SAVUSA as the instrument. Once again, an understanding of relations in the context of strategic alliances will need to be reflected upon.

Context – Strategic alliances
The last two letters of the acronym ‘SAVUSA’ indicates that the founders of this programme have created a new context for their future relations with South Africa, namely that of strategic alliances. Strategic alliances are widely practised in the field of business management and industry. This category of practice is built on very close relationships, as indicated by a description in a recent scholarly book on strategic management (Thompson, Gamble and Strickland 2004: 130):
During the past decade, companies in all types of industries and in all parts of the world have elected to form strategic alliances and partnerships to complement their own strategic initiatives and strengthen their competitiveness in domestic and international markets. This is an about-face from times past, when the vast majority of companies were content to go it alone, confident that they already had or could independently develop whatever resources and know-how were needed to be successful in their markets. … Strategic alliances are cooperative agreements between firms that go beyond normal company-to-company dealings but fall short of merger or joint venture partnerships with formal ownership ties.

Strategic alliances are partnerships that often exist for a defined period during which partners contribute their skills and expertise to a co-operative project. An ultimate aim of these partnerships, is frequently to learn from one another with the intention of developing company-specific expertise to replace the partner, when the contractual agreement achieves its aim or reaches its termination date. Such relations are complex. On the one hand the outcome is increased competitiveness for each of the partners, but on the other hand an outcome is expertise gained from a partner who might become a competitor after termination of the alliance. Accordingly, some key issues have to be understood, each raising many important questions that are essential in learning the intentions of prospective partners before they engage in a strategic alliance (Pearce and Robinson 2005: 219).

In industry, core competencies are seminal in identifying partners for an alliance. New competitive expertise has to develop from these competencies. Some key issues are, therefore, to assess and value the partner’s knowledge, to determine knowledge accessibility and evaluate knowledge tacitness and ease of transfer. These objectives raise questions like ‘What are the strategic objectives in forming an alliance?’ ‘Which partner controls key managerial responsibilities?’ and ‘Do we understand what we are trying to learn and how we can use the knowledge?’ (Pearce and Robinson 2005: 219). These authors also indicate the importance of key issues and questions linked to relations, like ‘What is the level of trust between parent and alliance managers?’ ‘Are we realistic about our partner’s learning objectives?’ and ‘Is the alliance viewed as a threat or an asset by parent[iii] managers?’

Thompson and his colleague’s underline that many alliances are unstable, break apart and fail. The commitment of the partners to work together and their willingness to respond and adapt to changing internal and external conditions are prime requirements for stable alliances.

A successful alliance requires real in-the-trenches collaboration, not merely an arm’s-length exchange of ideas. Unless the partners place a high value on the skills, resources, and contributions each brings to the alliance and the cooperative arrangement results in valuable win-win outcomes, it is doomed (Thompson, Gamble and Strickland 2004: 130). Read more

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The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa ~ Some Trends In South African Academic History: Changing Contexts And Challenges

Seismographic social and political shifts introduced the 1990s: the end of the Cold War, the demise of communism abroad, and in South Africa the official end of apartheid and the subsequent instalment of a new democratic government. Given these developments it is reasonable to expect that historians, who construct their versions of the past in the present, and are at least to some degree influenced by that present, should, in the light of wider contextual changes, re-evaluate their approaches and revise their interpretations. The relationship between societal change and historical production is, however, not a simple one-to-one function.

It is against this background that this paper seeks to identify and briefly explore selective developments pertaining to the dynamics of the historical profession in South Africa and the intellectual correlates that help to define the current nature of the enterprise . The chapter focuses only on certain aspects and makes no claim to have covered the vast and treacherous area exhaustively.

Academic historians and the question of growth
The 1990s were not the most auspicious of times for the profession. Instead of bewailing this fact, it may be more profitable to apply historical insights to the phenomenon and to ask what are the conditions that are particularly conducive for the expansion of the historical enterprise as practiced professionally? This necessitates a brief look at the contextual forces that helped to shape the profession in South Africa.

The profession reached its high point during the 1980s. It was a period when the History Department at the University of South Africa could boast with a staff of 35 historians; today it is halved. The University of Stellenbosch had a staff of eight; today it is almost half that number. Staffing figures at some other universities in the country would tell very much the same story.

To explain the growth up to the 1980s, one has to bear in mind that structurally job opportunities were limited for black people and given the lack of options many gravitated towards teaching (Crankshaw 1997: 23). This helped to swell the number of teachers and of those who included history as a subject in their courses. Moreover, since the 1960s the educational system rewarded teachers who obtained degrees financially and also those who sought to improve their qualifications. This served as a powerful incentive to engage with the discipline. Of course the system was skewed as it was largely whites (because of their higher participation rate in tertiary education) that benefited most, but black people were not excluded. Many teachers used the opportunities to gain higher degree qualifications in a teaching subject such as history. To oversimplify matters slightly – interest in history could be bought. But there were always those individuals who may have enrolled initially for pecuniary reasons, but for whom it also turned out to be an occasion to engage meaningfully with material that otherwise might have remained outside their ken.

The system almost inadvertently provided the opportunity for what can be called ‘creative misuse’, in that educators who were on top of their subject could introduce critical material that ran against the apartheid grain. In this way a mustard seed of doubt could be disseminated far and wide, undermining the spurious historical legitimacy for apartheid. The Minister of Education, Kader Asmal, has recently singled out for acknowledgement ‘the role of many courageous historians, educators and practitioners who refused to abide by the official line at the time …’ (The South African History Project Progress Report 2001-2003: 20). Read more

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