Original Research

Young, gifted and black: Black early career academics’ experiences in a South African university

Mlamuli N. Hlatshwayo, Nkululeko G. Majozi
SA Journal of Human Resource Management | Vol 22 | a2365 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajhrm.v22i0.2365 | © 2024 Mlamuli N. Hlatshwayo, Nkululeko G. Majozi | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 20 June 2023 | Published: 29 February 2024

About the author(s)

Mlamuli N. Hlatshwayo, Ali Mazrui Centre for Higher Education Studies, Faculty of Education, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa
Nkululeko G. Majozi, Department of Curriculum Studies, Faculty of Humanities, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa


Orientation: Higher education institutions (HEIs) in the Global South remain complex organisations that are facing a myriad of challenges. The sector, already reeling from the logics of the imperial, colonial or apartheid and more recently, neoliberal influences, continues to struggle to adequately respond to these challenges.

Research purpose: We used South Africa as a case study to explore and to theorise the challenges that black early career academics (ECAs) are facing as they seek to negotiate their being and belonging in a South African university.

Motivation for the study: To shine a spotlight on the complex experiences of black ECAs and how they navigate their being and belonging in a public university.

Research approach/design and method: We used a qualitative interpretivist case study to explore black ECAs’ negotiation of entry and success in the university. Additionally, we relied on semi-structured interviews as the main data generation tool.

Main findings: We reveal how mentors/supervisors/line managers play a significant role in how black ECAs navigate and negotiate their entry, being and belonging in a neoliberal university. We also reveal an emergent tension between teaching and research, showing how black ECAs believe that teaching and learning is relegated to the margins at university.

Practical/managerial implications: Exploring black ECAs experiences in university has implications for the retention, success and transformation of the higher education sector in South Africa.

Contribution/value-add: Higher education in general and academic staff development in particular has an instrumental role to play in ensuring that black ECAs are well supported and mentored.


early career academics; higher education; transformation; decolonisation; academic development

JEL Codes

I23: Higher Education • Research Institutions

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 4: Quality education


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