South African Journal of Higher Education

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The affirmative action debate: A critical reflection

B van Wyk


In this article I contend that we cannot divorce affirmative action from issues about race and racism. Further, debates on affirmative action have to acknowledge the power of words/concepts/definitions and how they can be constructed and used for the purposes of domination or liberation. I argue that, in debating affirmative action, we have to disrupt rather than reinforce dominant, yet illusory racial frames in the public’s mind. In order to get a better understanding of debates, I explore the institutional context of the University of Cape Town. In my response to Soudien, Benatar, and Botsis I draw on ideas about the racial contract (Mills 1997), social justice concerns, and the political role of the university. Finally, I explore the role of universities in the transformation of societies.

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