Getting the monkey of my own back

AKA - Finding myself as I prepare to leave UKZN

For most of the time that I have worked at UNP / UKZN I have had a coaster on my desk that boldly displayed the phrase To thine own self be true.

I would like to think that I mostly have done that. However if the truth be told, I have not until the arrival of the new South Africa, really given much thought to the self part. Even since then, I have not really grappled with this issue.

At least not until a few years ago when I did decide very specifically within the context of my working career what I was not. That was after reading Prof Makgoba's "Baboons" article that was published in the Sunday Times at the time. I decided for myself right then that despite being an older white male member of the UKZN staff, I was not one of these baboons. In fact to affirm that position, my wife and I bought a small wooden baboon while attending a conference in Botswana. On returning to UKZN I placed it on top of my computer screen in my office. There it sat dutifully reminding me of what I knew I was not.

As I have mentioned else where, I consider myself fortunate to have been able to work at a university, especially the accommodating institution that I perceived the PMB campus of the University of Natal to be in the late eighties and early nineties.

Similarly, the university has treated me well. I like to think that this was for the right reasons prior to the UKZN merger. Subsequently I believe it was simply because of the enormity of the merger exercise itself and in some respects as a result of the new dispensation.

During all this time I have dedicate myself to what I have enjoyed most and that is teaching computer science. In order to do so I have also endeavoured to conduct myself in a scholarly manner and whilst I never completed a PhD, I never stopped reading. Reading is something that is particularly important in my discipline, as it is still a relatively new discipline and one that continues to evolve and grow at a phenomenal rate.

Similarly, I have mostly been prepared to make myself available to assist with the management of the discipline when called upon to do so. I have never had any aspirations in this respect and have no regrets. I did what was necessary because the need was there.

In all of this I have worked hard, sometimes extremely hard and so have no qualms about my commitment and what it was I delivered for the university. The same can be said of the vast majority of my colleagues.

I have not been a baboon and it is enough that I know that.

It has of course not all been plain sailing. The late nineties saw the university (Natal) restructure and this consumed enormous quantities of energy and resources. So when we were finally getting that act together, it was needles to say disappointing that it all came to nought with the arrival of the merger of the University of Natal and the University of Durban Westville and transformation.

Restructuring the universities in South Africa may well of been desirable and necessary even if it was only to provide a platform for transformation. In this context and with respect to UKZN, I do not wish to discuss the merits of the merger. What I want to say is that I have never been able to understand how a large and populous province like KZN in effect ended up with with fewer universities than it had before.

I could also never understand why the City of Pietermaritzburg and the Msunduzi region did not come out in support of an independent university to support not only the midlands, but the northern interior of KZN as well.

With regard to transformation at the university I accept that it is necessary and that it cannot take place without some mistakes being made. However it is my impression that whilst the old order and its culture is mostly gone, it does not seem to have been replaced by anything discernible yet. Of course it may be that I am unable to discern the change and may well need help in this respect. Like most of us, I need to live with a sense of belonging in the space I find myself in on a daily basis. At UKZN that space as I view it is presently rather empty.