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South Africa urged to restore respect for scholarship

Image: cdelondon [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Law professor Barney Pityana blasts attitudes toward academia

Barney Pityana, an emeritus professor of law at the University of South Africa, says the country’s government and broader society have to change the way they think about scholarship in order to raise social standards.

He was speaking during a webinar hosted by the Academy of Science of South Africa on 12 April. The webinar was part of an ‘In conversation with’ series with personalities in the academic community.

“I feel that our government and society, in general, have little to no respect for learned people, people who distinguish themselves through their learning," Pityana (pictured) said.

"I think the government is responsible for this attitude because it doesn’t give enough credence to the idea of learning and learning as a requirement of what makes us human,” he added.

Pityana urged the government to do better: “We have gotten our priorities wrong because we have let go of the responsibility that we have to promote the most learned yet disadvantaged scholars to create a functional society.”

Asked what lessons academics can learn from history as they train the next generation of scientists, Pityana said. “Firstly, one of the things that have happened to South Africa to our shame is that we have become a very materialistic and selfish society.

“What academia and being a scholar does is help promote a selfless ethos. It trains one to become less money-driven and [more] committed to the ideas that you produce and [to being] part of something.”

Pityana added that the government needs to help restore a passion for academia and research in the country.

“Government needs to find a way of making scholarship and academia cool. There is much talk about this issue but little work is being done. We make it exciting and make it a place where people can stay as long as possible. It is through retaining such great minds that we can encourage more learning and create a joint vision of a successful society,” he said.