Finding a Sense Of Place, Sensibility or Just Sensationalism At UCT

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Eminent law professor and UCT Transformation Deputy Vice Chancellor Loretta Feris is also a Fallist scholar and perhaps the most fervent supporter of Fallism within the UCT Executive. Evidence of this includes:

  1. her service as vice-chairperson of the covert, oligarchical and Fallist-paralogous Black Academic Caucus (BAC);
  2. signing the petition Transformation: Vibrant student spaces needed that “urge[d] the [UCT] management to step back from the divisive stance it has taken towards the student movement” and stop “a policy of criminalisation, of bearing down with punitive power on students, staff and faculty associated with the Rhodes Must Fall movement” placing “the university management on the wrong side of history and its best possibilities”;
  3. her refusal to condemn Fallists for their invasion and excrement-smearing of the Law Faculty Building; and
  4. authoring Let’s make UCT a pluriversal space (see also here).

Most recently (on April Fool’s Day), DVC Feris developed her, Fallists’ and UCT’s(?) ideas further in a piece: Finding a sense of place at UCT? , the focus of this piece. She starts out by stating that a “sense of place” is an important “social construct” – something used to characterize groups, rather than individuals. She goes on to talk about the ‘truth’ that, at UCT, different groups find value” … “determined by a range of social, economic, political and cultural forces”.

As a non-racial libertarian loner, I find this view antithetical because a ‘real’ (in the ‘sense’ of VC TB Davie and, dare I say, Nelson Mandela) university should allow, expose, even require its students and academics to engage as individuals with a broad range of competitive epistemologies independent of any group-self-identification. Meaningful identity needs to be civic or creedal, i.e. based on commonly-held, tolerant, non-limiting ideas, ideologies and ideals that are accessible to people with different cultural backgrounds rather than on rigid dicta linked to ‘race’, ethnicity, or religion. This provides an opportunity for UCT’s students and academics to develop as individuals and realize what they choose to become.

The process by which this group-differentiation can be implemented is ‘othering’. According to Feris, the ‘othered’ groups at UCT are “people with disabilities, queer people, poor people, black people, women”, and these ‘groups’ “experience UCT as an inhospitable space and not a place”.

Evidence and an alternative perception

If DVC Feris’ perception of ‘othering’ were ‘true’, the ‘solution’ seems straight-forward. Change the names of symbols to honour new previously-‘othered’ heroes. Renovate (demolish?) existing ‘offensive’ buildings. Build new ones (especially ‘other’-restricted residences). Expose (defame and/or erase from UCT’s history?) the predatory history of ‘villains’, ‘perpetrators of ruthless exploitation of indigenous people’, ‘land expropriators’, and proponents of ‘illegal wars and vicious conquest’ who represent what Feris terms is “a time that is no more”. Equally importantly, it is necessary to expose present-day racists and institutionally racist structures and ‘decolonize’ UCT’s pervasive racist culture.

But, Feris’ perception is not substantiated by documented, actionable evidence and seems to be ‘Trumped’ by that of past UCT VC Prof. Njabulo Ndebele, a highly experienced university administrator (currently Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg), an eminent scholar, fiction author and public intellectual. He discusses group-identity as follows:

“I fear that, for black South Africans in particular, the dominance of [racial] conflict perpetuates the conditions that produce it. I was a product of the Black Consciousness Movement, and it is precisely because I am at peace with myself as a result of that path that I don’t need to be proclaiming myself as such in an environment in which political power is supposedly in my hands.” “I do not need to behave as if the source of relief comes from elsewhere other than myself. Seeking for the relief beyond me constantly puts others in a position … of power over me. To be ‘No Longer At Ease’ is a choice to take one’s destiny as a human being in the world and carve out your space not on the basis of what you look like, but on the basis of achieving a life and a culture that is the essence of the freedom you have been fighting for for more than a 100 years. The opportunity now is to take hold of that space and work with it positively rather than as a reaction to something else.” “There is a black inside of me that cannot be destroyed,” he said. “But there is also a white.” “The definition of the new South African, if I can call it that, is someone who contains all these identities within them that are all looking for a politics that is prepared to take on the big adventure of re-imagining South Africa on the basis of that phenomenon. “

With regard to symbol-names and architecture, two years before the ‘rise’ of Fallism, Ndebele also offered wisdom in the form of an alternative perspective. This is based on a hypothetical Ikey sitting on the steps beside the pre-desecrated Rhodes’ bronze figure, “looking through the lens of time”. The statue “exerts a presence on campus which often prompts a desire for his absence. But, like Moby Dick the whale, he will blow”. “Community as treasure takes time to coagulate. The mistakes and misunderstandings of first impressions first have to give way to trust, itself a product of time. But at some point, someone has to take the initiative.” With regard to suppressed culture: “Like a recessive gene, memory retains firm contours of ritual. Appropriate conditions will resuscitate the rituals in their remembered state. Initially, the moment of resuscitation will engender a space of noise. Incrementally, it can evolve into a space of shared understanding.”

With regard to “how will the new black majority translate its numerical ascendance into cultural and academic value” Ndebele pipes in with:

“Change is located more in the flux than in a list of things achieved. On the list are steps taken rather than destinations. In the flux it is easy to mistake stops for destinations. Despite the list of things done, the ascendant power still does not display a sense of achievement. It is inclined to point out what has been taken away and reclaimed, rather than what it is poised to create and sustain over decades and centuries, on the base of steps carefully taken.” “Some outcomes of history establish a balance of circumstances with a large measure of common interest among the very contestants in that history. An artificial tempering with that balance might be injurious to all.” “Without being fully aware, we may be passing through the relatively early stages of a subversive moment yet to be fully cognisant of itself.”

More lack of evidence

First, I quote from p. 64 of the recently published Final Report of UCT’s Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (IRTC):

“Attempts by the commission to establish the existence of a cabal, structure or organisation, secret or otherwise, which could be responsible for the creation of the atmosphere of fear and mistrust at the university, did not yield any results.”

Moreover, the IRTC refused to release any substantive evidence of individual or institutional oppression of lawbreaking Fallists, disabled/queer/poor/black people and women. In short, a subset of the 80 submissions considered by the IRTC suggested, at most, that there are only ‘perceptions’ of crippling institutional race/sexism and homophobia. This in no way implies that perceptions are merely social anecdotes. But, their validity is cloaked in subjectivity, contextuality and confidentiality.

Second, I quote from a scientific analysis, Academic promotions at a South African university [UCT]: questions of bias, politics and transformation, published in the preeminent journal Higher Education. The study, co-authored by VC Max Price, was conducted by UCT’s Robert Morrell, head of the Next Generation Professoriate, and a team of statistically-skilled colleagues. It addressed the full spectrum of allegations of institutional discrimination against women and ‘blacks’ vis-à-vis the rate and pace of ad hominem promotion. In June 2017, Morrell reported that there was/is none. Several members of the BAC strongly contested this conclusion, taking its position as a formal UCT “Interest Group” committed to the belief that UCT “maintain[s] hegemonies and reproduces colonial relations of power”. It was decided [by whom?] that Morrell et al.’s results were not to be reported in the public domain, and were not mentioned in the IRTC Final Report. Why?

Changing UCT’s institutional culture

Despite all this, DVC Feris, Lorna Houston (past-president of the UCT Convocation and Alumni Representative on the IRTC steering Committee) the BAC and Fallists, “driven from the highest office of the Vice-Chancellor as well as many colleagues everywhere in UCT”, seem to be still “commit[ed] to “revisit UCT as a physical place and space” and “change her institutional culture”. Why, how and to what effect?

With regard to the “why”, the damning evidence is either concealed, loosely described as untestable subtle/invisible/cultural, symbolic, structural, epistemological and psychological violence, or presented as perceptions. According to Houston, this is because “the [apartheid] past is still present”. So, in Houston’s opinion, Feris’ “time that is no more” still lingers on.

With regard to the “how”, Feris quotes Frantz Fanon: “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill (sic) it, or betray it” and that “what matters most is not to know the world but to change it“. But, the only way to ‘change’ documented history is to re-write it from a new, evidence-free ‘perspective’. What’s important is to make history, not to write it.

With regard to “what effect”, to date, the major historical ‘re-write’ at UCT has been the decision by the ad hoc Naming of Buildings Committee to recommend changing the name of “dishonourable” (defamed?) Jameson Memorial Hall to Sarah Baartman Hall to commemorate an iconic Khoi woman victim of 19th Century colonialism. ‘Saartjie” was a de facto slave lured to the UK and France to be portrayed as a circus freak “Hottentot Venus” and subjected to anatomical study by ‘scientific’ racists, some of whom characterized her as the ‘missing evolutionary link’ between humans and non-human hominins. This socio-political and economically pivotal recommendation was not subjected to a democratic referendum in competition with modern ‘othered’ heroes, e.g. ‘Prof.’ Robert Sobukwe, who stood above colonists, Apartheid oppressors, a ‘compromised’ ANC and a tainted liberation movement for holding to principles (non-racialism, non-collusion, non-violence and Pan-Africanism) and remains essentially untainted historically. How this Council-sanctioned recommendation will benefit currently ‘othered’ students and young academics remains to be seen.

The next pivotal decision the could ‘make history’ at UCT and enhance her “sense of place” status will be to debate (or just simply unconditionally implement) the generally panned Framework Document produced by the ad hoc, BAC/Fallist-dominated Curriculum Change Working Group.

For more on this, keep reading Rational Standard!

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