Decolonizing UCT: ‘trick or treat’ and ‘sticks and stones’
For more than two years, the University of Cape Town (UCT) has lost direction and momentum in what used to be referred to as adaptive “transformation” of staff and student demographics, curricula sensu lato, racially offensive symbols, etc. Indeed, during this period, the “T-word” has been superseded by the variously defined ‘D-word’: “Decolonization”. Extreme critical, fallist decolonists favour ‘race’- and other ‘self-identification-based’ quotas concerning recruitment and advancement of students and staff, and academic ‘cleansing’ of the ideas of “dead white Eurocentric men”. The purpose of this piece is to discuss tactics fallists employ in achieving these goals at UCT: violent disruption of its functioning, suppression of free (especially academic) speech and character assassination.
Matters came to a head in 2016 at about the time of Halloween. Classes had been suspended for weeks. Libraries were locked. Academics hid in their offices within locked buildings or simply fled to their homes. This is because small numbers of individuals representing several factions of lawbreaking fallists controlled the campus, holding the UCT Executive (Vice Chancellor Dr Max Price, selected DVCs and an Executive Director) to ransom. Unlike the many justifiably aggrieved students and staff who peacefully expressed their “pain”, “suffocation”, overall neglect and, especially “silencing” by an uncaring Executive, masked fallist militants:
- bore stones, sticks, sjamboks and petrol bombs; and
- roamed the campus intimidating individuals (irrespective of gender or ‘race’), disrupting lectures, assaulting ‘adversaries’ and security personnel and burning artwork/buildings/vehicles.
While this was happening, the four-person Executive ‘negotiated’ with nine “progressive” individuals, mainly from one fallist faction – the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania, PASMA, a relatively poorly supported student group who feature strongly among the lawbreaking fallists. PASMA is an ideologically monolithic, revolutionary movement “guided by the philosophies of Pan Africanism and Marxism-Leninism whose goal is total liberation of all humanity through the working class revolution and establishment and construction of classless society”. It does not tolerate individualistic “opportunist elements”.
A “significant step”
A week after Halloween, the Executive and the fallists signed the November Agreement. VC Price heralded it as a “significant step in the right direction of addressing the underlying issues that have fuelled the protests for the last 18 months”. The Agreement inter alia provided for potential conditional amnesty for lawbreaking fallists. These included founder, faeces flinger, fallist and accused woman-assaulter Chumani Maxwele and a multi-arrested ‘Pasmanian’, Masixole Mlandu. More importantly, it set in motion the creation of a five-person Internal Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (IRTC) that could make recommendations resulting in radical and fundamental ‘decolonization’ of the non-racial, academically free university dreamt of by VC TB Davie and implemented by his successors Stuart Saunders and Mamphele Ramphele, who remain conspicuously silent.
Many disagreed with the ‘negotiation’ process in general and the Agreement in particular.
To get a clearer picture of how alumni felt about this Agreement, I proposed a motion calling for members of the UCT Convocation to be consulted anonymously (but allowed to self-identify) to express their confidence in this Executive action. This was supported (in amended form) by former UCT Student Representative Council president Ms Gwen Ngwenya, who referred to the Agreement as a result of “negotiations for non-violence”. At the Convocation AGM in December 2016, the motion was mispresented as a personal vote of no-confidence in Price by Adv Geoff Budlender, Chairperson of the UCT Council and selection committee that appointed Price as VC.
When Gwen and I attempted to speak to our motion, we were prevented from doing so by fallists (including Agreement-‘clemencied’ Maxwele) who had illegally invaded the meeting. They had been allowed (based on a motion by Budlender approved by Convocation President BCM-founder Barney Pityana) to remain if they ‘protested’ silently. In fact, they shouted us down, defaming me as: “Jim Crow, racist, apartheid activist, killer of black people”, ultimately causing the meeting to be abandoned.
Soon after the abandoned Convocation AGM, fallists focused their attentions on Gwen, describing her as a “sell-out”, “porch negro”, “house ni**er”, and accusing her of lying about her academic qualifications.
So, rather than protest peacefully and debate, fallists resort to lawbreaking intimidation, lies, defamation and hate speech.
Another critic of the Agreement, politics/sociology (and now member of the IRTC Steering Committee) Prof Jeremy Seekings, challenged Price’s assertion that the academic year was “completed”, pointing out that “many courses [were] not concluded and a few not taught at all”, and emphasised that the Agreement would result in a significant loss of teaching time in 2017. Like Gwen, he also pointed out that fallist signatories of the Agreement “secured the prospect of indemnity for their own actions, reinforcing a culture of impunity and perhaps encouraging similar disruptions in 2017”. Third, he asserted that Price and the PASMA fallists “agreed a list of commissioners … giving PASMA an effective veto over who would conduct this [IRTC] review of UCT”. Price subsequently recanted this agreement at a meeting of Senate, but it was reaffirmed at the IRTC Steering Committee meeting held on 18 April 2017.
Seekings also highlighted the actions of multi-arrested (for contravening a High Court order, malicious damage to property, trespassing, and intimidation), Agreement signatory, ‘clemencied’, PASMA leader Masixole Mlandu who had been incarcerated Pollsmoor Prison. His release (opposed by the State) was effected, in part, when he presented a letter from VC Price “not opposing” this action.
So much for ‘decisive action’.
Soon after Mlandu’s release, this PASMA ‘Primate’ (in the religious sense) outlined his organization’s goals: “We will usher into this country an attitude of black rage, black liberation, an attitude that threatened the foundation of whiteness”, “Revolution is the answer to our problem. … We must live up to our historical task … to change society from bottom up with no compromise”.
So much for peace on campus.
Seekings and other colleagues at UCT who have criticized fallist behaviour have also been accused of racism. For example, in an expurgated letter published in the Sunday Independent on 21 August 2016 and in a much longer, unexpurgated Facebook post on the same day, Maxwele revealed that UCT Prof Xolela Mangcu had branded Seekings as a “racist”. This culminated in formal “stage 3” grievance and counter-grievances being lodged within UCT. The adjudicator nominated by Price was a Deputy Vice Chancellor, eminent professor of law and a “leading international legal researcher” (“A”–rated by South Africa’s National Research Foundation). In short, Mangcu’s racism-related allegations were found to be “defamatory and unsubstantiated” and he should “publicly retract” them. On 4 September 2016, the Sunday Independent published a subsequent letter from Elijah Moholola (officially representing UCT) that ends as follows:
“Fighting racism is a noble act. Accusing individuals blindly and publicly without evidence is not.”
Neither Maxwele nor Mangcu have retracted their accusations. While (and after) all of this public defamation occurred, UCT’s VC, Registrar, Executive Director of the Development and Alumni Department and President of Convocation took no action to stop its perpetrators.
Fallist institutional capture
In February 2017, at the reconstituted Convocation AGM2, President Pityana moved again that ineligible fallists might attend and make a formal address. The fallist speaker was commerce student Simon Rakei. He was one of the invaders of AGM1 and threatened to “slap” University Librarian Emerita Joan Rapp after she criticized his vulgar behaviour. He ended AGM1 by literally running down the lecture theatre from benchtop to benchtop, further disrupting the meeting.
During his address to AGM2, Rakei greatly exceeded his allocated 5 minutes, dismissed the legitimacy of the ‘white’-dominated meeting, ‘hate-speeched’ me again as “Jim Crow” and threatened that there “would be consequences” if the current Students Representative Council were not disbanded.
When I attempted to clarify my motion, Rakei and other fallists heckled me, Pitanya cut me short, my motion was once again misrepresented (once again by a pro-fallist alumnus lawyer) and it was voted down.
Convocation AGM2 was culminated by the election Ms Lorna Houston to succeed eminent scholar, liberation activist, former VC and professor Barney Pityana as Convocation President.
Ms Houston is a pro-fallist, anti-‘white’, disgruntled former employee of UCT who maintains that it retains an apartheid culture characterized by “invisible racism” – “the past is still present”. According to her:
- “The UCT system managed to “disappear” and exclude many capable black staff; and instead nurtured mainly capable white staff by providing support, mentoring and the transmission of social capital to negotiate the system”.
- “That even though there are no ‘criminal’ charges against the university, it is a party to the conflict. Its tardiness and benign view of tardiness on behalf of university staff who did not implement its ‘transformation policies’ for 23 years, caused untold harm which is routinely denied, but persist to this day.
- “This [‘tardiness’] contributed to slow but invisibilised escalation amongst black students and staff over time”.
- “It therefore follows that students with charges and/or other possible actions considered against them, should not be regarded as ‘offenders’ with the institution as their ‘victim’.”
- IRTC commissioners “should ideally actively and emphathetically ‘listen for’ clues in narratives about how MANIFESTATIONS of violence [by Fallists] fit with PATTERNS of invisibilised institutional racism as violence; how these patterns fit within the institutional culture that isolates and alienates othered groups.”
Fixing this system his requires a “de-centr[ing of] whiteness”.
She describes fallists as “the progressive flank [employing “youthful tactics”] to support all efforts that deal honestly and decisively with trans-historical causes”. They form “a radical flank who provide the doves with cover to negotiate a just settlement” using an “expansive view” of “trans-historical restorative justice”.
To date, neither Ms Houston nor any fallist or member of the newly formally recognized Black Academic Caucus have identified ‘disappeared black’ and/or ‘nurtured white’ staff or exposed (with substantive evidence) any member of the UCT Community or an institutional structure as racist. Moreover, none of the abovementioned have provided definitions/explanations for/of “decolonization”, “invisible racism”, “expansive trans-historical restorative justice” or “progressive” anything.
Ms Houston is also a key member of the UCT Alumni Advisory Board and the Steering Committee of the IRTC.
If you wish to read more on my views, consult my blog site: timguineacrowe.blogspot.co.za