DOCUMENTS

Pityana, Verwoerd, and the numerus clausus

Unisa evokes the heritage of 1930s race quota politics

The University of South Africa (Unisa), a distance-learning institution, has announced that it intends to restructure its academic teaching staff on the basis of a race quota. It describes this as an Employment Equity Plan, governed by an Anti-Racism and Racist Harassment Policy. The Principal and Vice Chancellor, the Reverend Professor Nyameko Barney Pityana - a colleague of the murdered Bantu Stephen Biko in the development of the Black Consciousness Movement of the late Sixties and Seventies, and subsequently a senior official of the World Council of Churches in Geneva - has stated that Unisa "must and will be built on a fully representative body of staff, academic and non-academic, at all levels" which "will seek to alter the race, gender and disability demographics of Unisa staff".  A racial agenda is clearly dominant, presented with "gender and disability" to suggest a more acceptable ethos of "inclusivity". (See here:)

Despite all cosmetic phrases, what has been resurrected here is the race quota system that became law in the universities in central Europe in the 1920s, in Hungary and Poland in particular, under the Latin phrase 'numerus clausus' (numbers barrier). Numerus clausus was openly, explicitly and deliberately used to set a barrier to the numbers of Jews studying at university. A legal limit was imposed in both countries restricting the number of Jews accepted for university entrance in proportion to the demographic percentage of Jews in each country. This explicit introduction of race as a determining reality in the intellectual and legal culture of Europe was an immediate precursor and preparation for the subsequent Nazi terror and the Holocaust. Its implications can be seen from Wikipedia and websites such as that of the journal Physics Today (June 2002), published by the American Institute of Physics (here):

For one thing, numerus clausus cost Hungary the services of the Budapest-born Jewish theoretical physicist Edward Teller (1908-2003), the so-called "father of the hydrogen bomb": the benefit of numerus clausus in his case being received by his adopted country, the United States. (Of course, numerus clausus also saved his life. Half a million Hungarian Jews went to the gas chambers).

There is also a direct South African precedent for Unisa's proposed adoption of a race quota in appointment of academic staff. This was the proposal in 1937 by the premier theoretician of apartheid, Dr Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd (1901-1966), prime minister from 1958 until his murder in Parliament in 1966, that a race quota or numerus clausus be imposed on access by Jews to business and the professions in South Africa, in proportion to their demographic presence within the white population. As Verwoerd argued in an article, "The Jewish question seen from the National Standpoint. A Possible Solution" from Die Transvaler (1 October 1937),

"Legislation must gradually but purposefully ensure that each white section of the population should, as far as practicable, enjoy a share of each of the major occupations, according to its proportion of the white population. This situation is called balanced distribution (ewewigtige verspreiding), but it has also been called a ‘quota system.' As Jews presently enjoy a disproportionate share of the wholesale and retail trade, such a balanced distribution can be achieved only by refusing them further trading licences, until such a time as the other main population groups, such as English- and Afrikaans-speakers, have gained a proportion which (as far as practicable) corresponds to their percentage of the white population."

It is up to Professor Pityana to explain how his university's proposed policy of numerus clausus differs from that of Professor Verwoerd.