‘Respect for diversity is one of UP’s navigational markers’

Posted on March 16, 2020

In his speech at the Academic Opening last month, Vice-Chancellor Professor Tawana Kupe urged staff to read UP’s Anti-Discrimination Policy. “We must aspire for zero harm. Respect each other and learn from our unique individualities and the rich diversity amongst us. This is THE UP WAY,” Prof Kupe said.

To find out more about the policy and how we can best implement it in our daily work, Tukkievaria reached out to Sarah Matseke, Acting Manager of UP’s Transformation Office.

TV (Tukkievaria): How do you explain discrimination?

Sarah Matseke (SM): The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age or sex, and other grounds. Prejudicial stems from “pre” (before) and “judicial” from “judgement”. Thus, prejudice is a “judgement in advance”, without any grounds for justification, but stemming from our own perceptions, which are influenced by our upbringing or other societal influences.

TV: What are the employees’ basic rights in the workplace?

SM: First, the right to a safe workplace which is free of known dangers and other potential safety hazards as stipulated by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. These safety standards include safety from sexual or gender violence or stereotyping, as well as other psychological harms which may occur in the environment. Second, the law requires that employers provide their employees with conducive working environments. Discrimination, sexual and gender-based violence are known dangers in our country, and it is everybody’s right to be free and protected from discrimination and harassment of all types. Third, employees have the right to be free from retaliation after you have lodged a case against anyone.

TV: What is unfair treatment in the workplace?

SM: It can be any unjustified bad treatment of a person by the employer or fellow employees that infringes on the other person’s rights. There are different kinds of unfair treatment in the workplace, but in the context of the Employment Equity Act and discrimination, we focus on unfair discrimination on the basis of race, gender, disability, sexuality, or many other grounds, as described in UP’s Anti-Discrimination Policy. These could lead to disparities in employment opportunities, promotion opportunities and income levels, and such practices could create pronounced disadvantages for certain categories of people.

TV: How can we eradicate discrimination?

SM: By educating ourselves on the different elements and definitions of discrimination, we will be able to identify the particular discriminatory practices as they occur. Without this knowledge we won’t be able to do that. With the knowledge of what constitutes discrimination, where to report, and how cases are dealt with within the University, one is therefore able to report such incidents to the University in order for them to be addressed. The University of Pretoria employs a zero-tolerance approach towards discrimination of any kind, and has allocated resources to deal with such cases. However, without these incidents being reported, the University becomes unable to assist and support employees.

TV: Why is freedom from discrimination important in the workplace, and what are the benefits of preventing discrimination? 

SM: The University of Pretoria’s vision – “To be a leading research‐intensive university in Africa, recognised internationally for its quality, relevance and impact, and also for developing people, creating knowledge and making a difference locally and globally.” – encapsulates the essence of the need for a non-discriminatory organisational environment. With discrimination eliminated, UP could achieve the following:

International skills and knowledge-sharing. For the UP community to be recognised internationally, we need to be an employer of choice. This includes being able to attract the necessary talent from all over the world to be part of our employee base, thereby bringing diverse knowledge into the UP community. This diverse integration of knowledge will contribute towards the sharing of new ideas, an increase in creativity, and ultimately increased productivity. This will help us to achieve our vision of producing quality education, to be relevant to the global community, and therefore remain sustainable.

Have a global community culture. Respect for diversity is one of UP’s navigational markers, and it can only be achieved if we are an organisational community that is welcoming to all nations, races, genders, and sexualities. This makes social justice one of UP’s key transformation objectives.

Respect and acceptance for our own South African languages and diverse cultures. South Africa is a unique country, with 11 official languages, and sign language set to become the twelfth. Along with these languages comes a myriad of cultures within the SA community. Respect for diversity in the workplace becomes imperative so that there can be understanding and tolerance of actions by others that may not be aligned with our own known cultures. 

- Author Jimmy Masombuka

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