Human Rights, Lefts, Violence, Amnesty and Justice at UCT

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decolonization
Jeremiah Pietersen via Pixabay.com

Some at UCT assert that they have “Rights” and demand that she stands for academic freedom founded on evidence-based, unfettered discussion and rational debate. Some others also have ‘lefts’, buckets of excrement, balaclavas, sjamboks, stones and petrol bombs. They eschew rationality, offer only evidence-free, ideological, identity- and politically-based beliefs sprinkled with defamation and hate speech, and impose their ideology through author-free documents and/or violence and destruction. A third ‘some’, the vast ‘Silenced Majority’, avoid polemics and just want to teach, learn and conduct research to produce desperately needed knowledge and world-leading South African thinkers, educators and innovators necessary to address currently overwhelming socio-economic oppression. During 2015, the ‘second some’, morphed into groups of often weaponized Fallist lawbreakers frustrated by the inaction of an ‘uncaring’ and ‘institutionally racist’ management. They brought the UCT to her knees.

According to recently released landmark documents (here & here), a ‘negotiated’ agreement between the UCT executive, students representative council (SRC) and other student organizations provided an interim resolution to the conflict. What actually happened on 6 November 2016 was the signing of an 11-line Agreement to end Fallist overt violence and destruction that was threatening the completion of final exams and other ‘disastrous attendant results’, and to lay the groundwork for an Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (IRTC) [note the absence of the word ‘Truth’] to deal with inadequately addressed and/or unaddressed grievances of the students. While ‘negotiations progressed’, two unarmed private security guards were brutally attacked (without provocation) by Fallists on upper campus and had to be hospitalized.

The signatories to the Agreement included VC Max Price, three other members of the Executive chosen by him and nine Fallists identified by the Executive as Fallist leaders. In fact, the Fallists were mainly from PASMA, a relatively poorly supported student group that is ideologically ‘di-lithic’, revolutionary movement “guided by the philosophies of Pan Africanism and Marxism-Leninism”. None of the Fallists were elected members of the current SRC and one, Masixole Mlandu, had to be bailed out of jail having been charged by the SAPS for multiple acts of malicious damage to property, housebreaking, and intimidation.

The Agreement ‘process’ is perhaps best described by Gwen Ngwenya, a former UCT SRC president (2010-2011) and now Member of Parliament, as: “a series of decisions by the executive, grounded in the appeasement of unelected and unrepresentative student lawbreakers and ideologues who have been party to violence on campus and who have not been able to articulate their philosophy in any manner as to result in its common comprehension”. She went on: “You can’t negotiate for non-violence, it’s a constitutional given.” When Gwen and I proposed that UCT’s alumni sensu lato be asked to comment on the merits of VC Price’s entering into agreements with lawbreaking Fallists, they invaded the relevant meeting and used (see video) profanity, verbal abuse and public nudity to prevent discussion of our motions. Furthermore, they defamed Gwen as a “sell-out” “house ni**er” and besmirched her academic qualifications. At the meeting, Fallists whom I have never met labelled me “Jim Crow” (see here & here), “known racist”, “apartheid activist” and “killer of black people”. If another assessment of Fallist leaders is necessary, in his recent book Rebels and Rage, Wits University VC Adam Habib describes them as “often authoritarian”, “frequently dishonest and duplicitous”, political ‘pawns’ of both the ANC and the EFF and “self-appointed political commissars” “addicted to sensationalism” and “infantile romanticising of violence”.

Lawbreaking Fallists amnestied in the spirit of restorative justice

As I now write on Human Rights Day 2019, I recall a piece written a year ago entitled with a question:  The IRTC at UCT: transparent restorative justice or a pre-planned April fool’s ‘whitewash’? We now have the answer. It appears (to me anyway) to be a ‘whitewash’. But, read on and decide for yourself.

Fundamental IRTC premises

Quoting from the IRTC’s Final Report, based on the premises that, “on a daily basis”, “black students” [at UCT] face “racism, social injustice and a lack of opportunities” “deeply rooted [in] cultural dominance, racial exclusion, invisibility and violence”, designed to “maintain colonial legacies and white supremacy through the dehumanisation of black bodies” and “linked to one’s different identities”, UCT’s Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commissioners concluded that Fallist “violence [wa]s inevitable” and that “excess[ive violent/destructive ‘protest’] was not deliberate or planned”. Therefore, Commissioners employed what they term “the spirit of social restorative justice” and recommended that eight “Shackville protesters” (including Mlandu and Founder Fallist Chumani Maxwele – see here & here??) be granted amnesty and recover the status of “fit and proper persons” so that they could pursue their careers without the burden of a criminal record. It further recommended that UCT develops a [similar?] “policy on amnesty and clemency that can be used in the similar instances in the future”.

The Amnesty Strategy

Also quoting from the IRTC’s Final Report, its strategy vis-à-vis applications for amnesty was: to keep hearings confidential; exclude the UCT Executive and victims; not to identify applicants applying for amnesty by name; and to limit “social restorative justice” to satisfying two criteria: a full disclosure of the events and incidents in which the student was implicated and an admission of responsibility. With regard to “full disclosure”, none of the applicants revealed who fire-bombed the university motor vehicles on Upper Campus and the VC’s office in Bremner Building. A third possible criterion, “not to repeat such actions”, was dropped. Indeed, the lawbreakers were not even required to express remorse or make an apology for their acts (which angered the Constitutional Court), in some instances involving the destruction of artwork created by ‘blacks’, because the Commissioners doubted the applicants’ sincerity.

This strategy is at variance with the widely accepted view that restorative justice was designed to be a fully transparent process showing an equal concern for crime victims and offenders. It is intended to focus on the harm done to persons and relationships rather than on the violation of a law. Its goals are to: “address the needs of crime victims and the community and not just offenders”; provide “restitution to crime victims”; and ultimately to prevent further lawbreaking.

So, from day one, there was little transparency in the IRTC amnesty-evaluation process and admitted offenders did not interact directly (let alone reconcile) with accusers and victims and the offenders’ justificatory evidence is inaccessible. Indeed, many academics and non-academics feared testifying before the Commissioners because of concern that they were hostile to their concerns. There is no indication of how many intimidated non-Fallist students and staff were interviewed and what evidence they presented.

The Alumni ‘speak’

By design, the IRTC process chose not to disclose any corroborated, testable evidence of individual and/or institutional racism at UCT, even from the amnesty-applicants. Instead, Commissioners focused on mega-challenges vis-à-vis private security, student accommodation, student health, staff demographics and, especially, relied on views expressed by the alumni in the document entitled Alumni Constituency’s Proposed Framework – appended as Annexure B the Final Report. This document, was, presumably, co-authored [authored?] by pro-Fallist Lorna Houston (Alternate Alumni Representative on the IRTC SC and President of the UCT Convocation) et al., who had previously described the behaviour of Fallists depicted in the abovementioned video as “youthful tactics of progressives”.

In fact, the ‘Alumni Framework’ is a highly contentious document. It was supported by only 63 signatories of uncertain provenance. It was not circulated broadly to alumni for comment. It was never discussed, let alone debated/voted-on, at an IRTC Steering Committee Meeting. Indeed, it was only mentioned briefly and beyond the scheduled closure of the facilitated workshop of a subset of the IRTC Steering Committee held on 20 May 2017. Many of the participants had left when the inclusion of the document as part of the IRTC Terms of Reference was proposed by Houston, supported by Simon Rakei (Shackville Student Representative), at 37 min into the video of session 3 of the workshop. Another unidentified workshop attendee described the document as only being “from black alumni”.

The ’Alumni’ Framework’ asserts that there is “recurring invisible violence and racism perpetrated by individuals” “at UCT since 1829” that cumulatively “triggered” the students’ “protest” that “led to criminal charges”. It also alleges the existence of:

  1. “multiple and simultaneous ‘othering’ of black, LGBTIQA, poor students, and staff;
  2. internalised superiority and inferiority;
  3. epistemic violence, amongst other exclusionary practices that marginalized black scholars and scholarship; and
  4. violence [that] is not limited to physical violence but includes non-physical violence (sometimes referred to as invisible and structural violence), including historical experiences of apartheid and structural violence, racism, sexism, psychological abuse, the domination of a prevailing ideology, the repression of other ideologies and matters of that kind”.

Taking this concept of ‘cultural violence’ as a given, Commissioners (except possibly Judge Zak Yacoob in an Addendum to the IRTC Report) concluded that it “justifies and legitimises” amnesty for overt violence and destruction of property by Fallist protesters.

The ‘Alumni’ Framework document further mentions claims of “black people who left UCT and current staff who experience institutional racism”, saying that their lived experiences are “written off as anecdotes that cannot inform policy” and/or are “not worthy of ‘real’ attention”. “These manifestations have a cumulative effect and result in black people being pathologised (sic) or criminalised for expressing justified anger and or protests.”

Sadly, the ‘Alumni’ document was not accompanied by corroborating, substantive, supporting and testable evidence of these nefarious acts/policies. I can find no curricula vitae, let alone lived-experience, evidentiary documents/statements from Ms Houston and Mr Rakei or any of the Shackville Fallists that corroborate/justify these acts/policies and/or identify UCT racists by name. Indeed, VC Price objected to the document’s inclusion within the IRTC’s Terms of Reference because: to do so was “unfair” and was “not honest”; “it wasn’t discussed and does not hold the approval or endorsement of the whole IRTC Steering Committee”; it held “different status” and would be “erroneously” perceived to have the “stamp of approval” of the IRTC SC. Houston described Price’s objections as “classic UCT behaviour” that is “actually outrageous”. UCT Council Vice-chairperson Debbie Budlender disagreed with Price and motioned for “attaching” the document, but without any clear endorsement.  Her motion was accepted nem. con., hence the document’s inclusion.

What is clear is that the IRTC accepted the Alumni Framework document and testimony of applicants for amnesty and others critical of the UCT management as uncontroverted evidence of long-standing, widespread individual and institutional racism at UCT that ‘triggered’ the Shackville protest. It confirms this by stating:

It is worth noting that not a single submission claimed that UCT is not a racist place. Racism at the University of Cape Town often demonstrates itself in subtle forms of daily micro-aggressions, which however, have an impact equal to a direct and explicit racial discrimination.”

I guess that, by confining “racism” to undefined “subtle”, “nuanced”, “micro-“ and invisible aggressions”, the IRTC’s Report might make some sense. But, it should have at least provided accounts of the ‘aggressions’ and identify the racist perps by name. As for me, my many (>20) submissions to the IRTC and >100 pieces in my blog site (timguineacrowe.blogspot.co.za) demonstrate that UCT was institutionally non-racial in principle after 1950 and, in practice, after 1980. The only submission of mine mentioned in the IRTC report (p. 35) is misrepresented as “a back-handed acknowledgement of the existence of racism” and is cited as coming from “Crow, Timothy”, perpetuating my Fallist defamatory label.

The IRTC Report also asserted that the university needs to revise its affirmative action practices and admission policies/strategy to aim at increasing the number of black students at the university in a way that they ensure a ‘critical mass’ of adequately accommodated students; and great disparities still exist at the university when it comes to race and gender at all levels of professional staff employment with “White South African[s] have been greatly over-represented” (p. 2) with more positions being occupied by men than women at the level of full rofessorship and that this is due to recruitment and promotion practices that are lacking in equity, transparency and inclusiveness.

Just remember, a critical mass can also mean the minimum amount of fissile material needed to maintain a nuclear chain reaction. Also, many overworked/overwhelmed academics feel strongly that there are already too many educationally ‘disabled’ undergrads for them to provide the required mentoring/nurturing to ensure their success.  Further, way back in 2013, Price tried to implement a non-racial policy for student admissions based on ideas developed largely by the late Neville Alexander and Transformation DVC Crain Soudien  through their participation in a 2012 Commission into Student Admissions. In short, the Commission recommended that UCT’s student admissions policy that used ‘race’ as the key criterion in affirmative action admissions be replaced by one based on economic disadvantage, a strategy consistent with the primary aim of South Africa’s National Development Plan, the eradication of poverty. This attempt was sabotaged by pre-Fallist academics led by now emigrant sociologist Xolela Mangcu.

Furthermore, on 24 June 2017, a selectively advertised and attended meeting convened by VC Price announced the results of UCT-commissioned research conducted by Robert Morrell, head of the Next Generation Professoriate, and a team of statistically-skilled colleagues that addressed the full spectrum of allegations of institutional discrimination against women and ‘blacks’ vis-à-vis the rate and pace of ad hominem promotion. Morrell reported that there was/is none. Several members of the Black Academic Caucus 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”. Therefore, it was decided [by whom?] that Morrell’s initial results were not to be reported in the public domain. They were only published much later (12 December 2018, several months after Price ceased being VC), with Price as an author, as a scholarly paper, Academic promotions at a South African university: questions of bias, politics and transformation in the preeminent journal Higher Education. It concludes as follows: “Overall, therefore, we find little quantitative evidence of any consistent pattern of promotion bias [at UCT].” My emphasis.

Indeed, the IRTC Report reveals (p. 64) that, despite trying to uncover one, Commissioners were unable “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”.

Towards a conclusion, I agree with the IRTC Report (p. 2) in that I “hope that this [transparent, unfettered, rational, testable-evidence-based] debate will culminate in tangible and substantive transformation which is fast tracked by the University of Cape Town, and which will go beyond a technical tick-box approach and instead will favour a holistic, evidence-based and sensitive strategy.”

To conclude, the term philosophical holism was coined and developed fully by UCT Chancellor Jan Smuts. I do not concur that the ‘decolonization’ process should be “led preferably by the Departments of Sociology and Political Science” since members of their staffs and student bodies are amongst the most radical and destructive Fallists. If they were to foreswear violence and destruction as acceptable protest and condemn the Fallist views of: “one settler, one bullet”; “a white person’s existence is a crime”; “I have aspirations to kill white people, and this must be achieved!”; “For each one person that is being killed by the taxi industry, we will kill five white people… You kill one of us, we will kill five of you.”; We will kill their children, we will kill their women, we will kill anything that we find on our way.” Then departments populated by the ‘Silenced Majority’ at UCT would be more amenable to constructive collaboration.

Of course you could read the ‘other’ report, The Institutional Review: 2008–2018, and conclude that things at UCT aren’t all that bad.

Tim Crowe – see my lived experience and curriculum vitae

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