Artistic expression and free speech are repressed at UCT

Right from its first sentence, UCT Assoc. Prof. Jay Pather’s UCT is not a closed and controlled gallery is a shameless ‘spin’ document bordering on propaganda. Destruction, consultation-free- removal, defacing, blacklisting and covering-up of artwork are anything but “routine” curatorial actions. They are blatant further...

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Right from its first sentence, UCT Assoc. Prof. Jay Pather’s UCT is not a closed and controlled gallery is a shameless ‘spin’ document bordering on propaganda. Destruction, consultation-free- removal, defacing, blacklisting and covering-up of artwork are anything but “routine” curatorial actions. They are blatant further steps towards the elimination of academic freedom and freedom of expression at the University of Cape Town (UCT). This nefarious ‘process’ is driven by Fallists and condoned, if not suborned, by an overpaid “Senior Leadership Group” (SLG) that now controls UCT’s Council, Senate, Convocation, Academics Association, illegitimate-“interim”-politicized Students Representative Council and Academics Union. All of these purported non-racialist structures are blatantly pro-Fallist or have admitted, at least implicitly and in the absence of substantive evidence, that UCT is ”invisibly” institutionally racist and needs to be “decolonized” radically.

The author is an eminent academic artist and director of the Isela Zonke Dance Theatre. Yet, he describes the wilful destruction of artwork on UCT’s Upper Campus by several “Shackville” Fallist individuals on 17 February 2016 as “not an ad hoc [done for a particular purpose] incident”, “but one that occurred within a very particular context”. He loosely describes the “context” of “this single wildcat incident” as “a range of issues” used by Fallists before and since to “socially justify” illegal mass intimidation, assault and destruction on a campus that was once a centre of resistance to Apartheid. Then he attributes the mass condemnation of illegal behaviour (even at one time by the Black Academic Caucus) as “sensational generalisations that have followed tumble easily into questioning well-mediated processes of normal transformation” [decolonization?].

Yes, adaptive transformation at UCT, and further afield in South Africa, is needed desperately. What is not needed is raw violence and destruction, censorship, academic “cleansing” and the eradication or re-writing of history. Dismissing the genuine fears of the vast majority of the UCT Community, whom I call the “silenced majority”, as “knee-jerk response”, “hopeless generalisation” and “hysteria” while “contextualizing” arson and alleged sexist assault benefits no one, except their perpetrators?

To paraphrase Pather, “In South Africa, understanding what we mean by “of this time and of this place” is intimately connected not just with South African society in 2017 – a society that remains among the most unequal in the world – as well as the international community.” It is connected with local and international society, going back to the origins of the KhoiSan. To focus only on local and current “developments in our society” is not just short-sighted. It is dangerous. To demand that “UCT [continues] on its way to abandoning the model of the detached ivory tower” [now “silo”] and follow an un/ill-defined path toward “decolonization” dictated “with the full support of a society anxious for stability that can only be attained through transformation” is frightening. Fallists, SLG, Council, Black Academic Caucus, UCT Convocation and SRC – please elucidate what is meant by “stability” [and not simply enforced acceptance] and, for the umpteenth time, provide some even vague details about “decolonization” and its envisioned products and their benefits. Stop stripping South African art from our hallowed halls and denying formally-invited speakers access to campus.

“Currents” don’t “determine art and its creation”. Artists do.  Curation driven by capitulation to reason-and-debate-free demands from law-breaking ideologists is, at best, censorship.  Describing UCT’s non-consultative [at least according to artists affected] “curation” policies as “based on shifting contexts and themes” smacks of Fascist oppression. Prof. Pather’s dismissal of Ivor Powell‘s [who has degrees from the Universities of Cape Town (undergraduate) and the Witwatersrand (post graduate) in English, Philosophy and Art History; and with more than 30 years of experience as a writer, journalist and editor] article The art of UCT’s Max Price: Siding with ignorance and misperception as merely “a flippant point of view” and “universalist twaddle”, and Powell as a “slippery humanist” does Pather no credit. To understand more about why Powell writes that, “UCT appears to be building a platform from which it will be in a position to tell you what to think”, Pather should read Price’s A subtle kind of racism

In this piece, Price abandons his normal equivocation and admits that the UCT “system” “transformed” under his leadership during the last decade is institutionally racist and has failed ‘blacks’. His failure thereby “justifies” the Fallists’ racially-motivated “anger and alienation” and Price’s endless granting of “restorative” amnesties of miscreants. He also makes it crystal-clear that, with “no doubt”, there is “racism [amongst] white lecturers and students” at UCT. But, he provides no substantive evidence of actionable racism, choosing to rather to cite Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael’s definition of institutional racism. This characterizes it as “subtle” and inferred by victims and not obvious to its perpetrators. Such “racism” is also described within UCT as “invisible violence” by UCT Convocation President Lorna Houston and her kindred “progressives” who use it to “contextually, socially, restoratively justify” naked violence perpetrated by Fallists. Sexist Stokely Carmichael is also not a balanced scholar “without sin”, given his statement that “the position of women in the [Black Power] movement is prone”.

Of course, “there is no such thing as objective curation” and it “is imbued with a point of view”. But whose point of view? No one in the SLG or UCT’s art community submitted rational arguments for the removal of the 74 artworks, including major UCT benefactor (Fund for student support) Robert Broadley’s Flowers in a Vase, Roses in a Jug, Roses in a Vase and Tree in Blossom as being so offensive that they “dehumanize blacks” and “catapults you into unhealed wounds inducing a schizophrenia and distension”.  Apolitical Broadley was a keen golfer and portrait and landscape artist – nothing more, nothing less. The plants he portrays inflict pain on no one. Indeed, neither the SLG nor Pather’s Artworks Task Team (ATT) have explained why any of the artworks are artistically racist or allowed the artists and others to debate their significance.

Quite to the contrary, UCT is now “a closed and controlled space”. Free speech, unless supported by the SLG and not opposed by Fallists, no longer occurs. Alleged assaulters of women walk free and even occupy positions of power. Censorship is the rule, not the norm [see if UCT publishes this piece in the UCT NEWS].  Pather maintains that because “the composition of an audience at a university is much more diverse and unpredictable” than visitors to galleries, and the “residue of the [artist’s] action [whatever that might be] may clash with what exists in a contemporary context”, the SLG’s precipitous actions sanctioned by the ATT are warranted. Neither the SLG nor ATT explains how their in/actions “create an open enough field for these identities to be played out with enduring principles of respect, listening, acknowledgement”.

The University as a Public Space

YES! “The point of the matter, which is being quietly sidestepped in the articles in question, is that the realism, texture and nuance of the contemporary moment can no longer be left to be described, critiqued, expressed and circulated by a single demographic.”  That “demographic” is a small minority “constituency” of radical, destructive Fallists. Pather can’t deny the integrity of the artists nor dismiss their views by claiming that they “benefited under apartheid and indeed developed international reputations as a result”.  This slimy characterization of the likes of Breyten Breytenbach, Willie Bester, Richard Keresemose Baholo, et al. emulates Maxwele’s treatment of Rhodes’ Statue.

I close not with my views but with quotes from “blacks” and VC Price.

18 April 2017

At a meeting of the Internal Reconciliation and Transformation Steering Committee – Samuel Chetty related the experience of staff during Fallist “protests”: “We brought our concerns to management but little was done. … Frankly, management did nothing to protect our safety.”

25 March 2015 at the Rhodes-Statue-Meeting in Jameson Hall

Assoc. Prof. Xolela McPherson Tennyson Mangcu: “I wasn’t going to come here tonight because I stopped trying to explain things to white people a long time ago. … I find the issue of standards racially offensive. … Í am not here to justify myself to anybody.”  Since being “promoted” to full professor and described by Fallists in print as a self-serving, “condescending and anti-black” “house negro”, his pro-Fallist position seems to have slackened.

An unnamed speaker: Identifying himself as a “black” Advocate (lawyer), attributed inordinate attention given to Jewish students/staff complaints about swastikas sprayed on a building “because they have money” and “black pain does not measure up to Jewish pain.” His comments were met with cheers.

“Black” woman accounting postgrad: aggressively asked Price: “What exactly have you done in your two terms? … I call upon you to stand up and take leadership. Put your values and policies and implementation where your mouth is.”

Unidentified ‘Black’ man: Claims that he sent an 8-page document to VC without response that described education at UCT as “mental slavery and colonization”.

Former student and SRC member: “This varsity doesn’t care about you; it’s not going to help you; and it’s not going to listen to you. … Max Price and his management team have failed you.”

Black male student: “For many years my multitude of emails, letters, affidavits to Price have been ignored”.

20 March 2015 – VC Price: “no-one would be left behind”.

Max – Please re-iterate this to the whole UCT Community, including Sam Chetty and the assaulted UCT women who have yet to receive “restorative” or any other kind of justice from your “system”.

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  1. jemevans Reply

    I assume now that the fairly ineffective Blade has been removed from the drawer, all eyes will be on the responses to the utterances of his successor. Whether the successor merely channels the underworld remains to be seen. But you may find it profitable to open a book with reasonable odds, as under the current climate and arrangement VCs will both rise and fall according to the pleasure they afford.

  2. Harald Sitta Reply

    Is this a madhouse full of madcaps ???

  3. alien Reply

    Thanks for another brilliant article by Tim Crowe.
    He has done society a great favour by highlighting the detsructive and short-sighted behaviour at UCT. Africa always lands in the gutter and you can see why.

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