Leaders and protesters at the University of Cape Town (UCT) – a déjà vu: Past kowtowing and collusion vs recent grovelling and complicity?
Part 2 – Anwar Mall
Now to Prof. Anwar Mall’s mini-memoire
The ‘racist’ situation at Liesbeeck Gardens Residence described by Prof. Mall during the 1980s seems incongruous. It occurred during Stuart Saunders’ VC-ship. Saunders was a seasoned residence-warden, past chairperson of the Residences Committee and a highly effective peacemaker. He was the first UCT VC to openly challenge apartheid in both principle AND practice. Indeed, his first major executive act as VC in 1980 was to defy the Group Area Act by opening UCT’s student residences to all ‘races’. For more evidence, read Saunders’ Memoire.
Saunders did all this while demanding what VC Beattie termed “decent behaviour”. For example, in the 1980s, Saunders took decisive action when residents of Smuts Hall invaded Fuller Hall and urinated on a tree in its courtyard. He called out the entire Smuts Hall population to account for their behaviour, forcing them, one-by-one, to admit or deny charges of public indecency. Many admitted guilt, were fined and such incidents never recurred. In the 1990s, when students colluded with striking workers who kidnapped and assaulted uncooperative colleagues and attempted to barricade UCT, Saunders expelled 16 of the most egregious offenders.
Given all this, had Warden Mall’s disgruntled students at Liesbeeck Gardens Residence (LGR) produced a well-argued complaint supporting their grievances – instead of banging pots on walls – it seems highly unlikely that Saunders would have ignored or dismissed it without serious consideration. However, if their demands required ‘re-conversion’ of badly needed student apartments in the converted mega-block of flats back into lounge areas, this may not have gone down well.
Nevertheless, the students’ complaints may have some justification. At that time, LGR was a recently acquired, mega-block of inexpensive flats converted into a bare-bones, 2nd-tier, self-catering co-educational residence to accommodate 400+ undergraduate students in 200+ flats – housing from one up to four students. I have been unable to determine the LGR’s ‘racial’ demographics during the 1980s, but there seems to be no ‘ghetto-like’ over-representation of any ‘race’ these days.
In sharp contrast to Liesbeeck Gardens was the 1st-tier Smuts Hall Residence, THE male, purpose-built, National Monument, on-campus dormitory erected in the late 1920s as one of the first buildings on UCT’s Groote Schuur campus. Each of its 230 occupants had a separate, furnished room, considerably larger than those in any other men’s residences at UCT. Smuts Hall has a dedicated dining hall, student lounges and a laundry, and is close to classrooms, libraries, lecture theatres, academics’ offices, a swimming pool and sports fields.
Having said all this, Prof. Mall failed to describe what happened at UCT residences after the 1980s to promote integration of black students into UCT allowing them “to flourish academically, emotionally and socially”. By the end of VC Saunders’ ‘reign’ in 1995, all first- and second-tier residences had a warden living on site and had elected student governing house committees. The house committee, with the warden, share responsibility for the academic and social needs and interests of students. This residence leadership carries the responsibility to:
- see that the rules of the residence and of the university were followed;
- ensure that students who broke rules were held accountable;
- promote co-operation within the residence community;
- organize activities throughout the year in order to maintain a balanced residence experience; and
- create friendly and comfortable environments in which students are able to pursue their academic objectives and to achieve personal growth.
Wardens act in loco parentis as guardians, in the strict legal sense, to all minor students in the residence in the event of an emergency. Informal tutoring by senior students was also available in most subjects. Furthermore:
- many residences operate a mentoring system for new students, with more senior occupants providing a first port of call for emotional, personal or academic difficulties; and
- each residence has a Residence Facilities Officer who ensures that the rooms are properly maintained, and that keys, telephones, laundries, and other essentials for comfortable living are available and in working order.
Finally, during Dr Max Price’s VC-ship, a new 21st Century residence, Obz Square Residence, was built in Observatory. It is a 30 000 m2 student residential complex and opened during November 2011. The construction project was completed ahead of schedule. The building consists of an underground parking garage, retail shops on Main Road and a student residence with 880 en suite rooms, warden flats, recreational and support facilities including reception, offices, meeting rooms, a computer laboratory, a laundry and maintenance facilities. This has become a landmark building and is considered a world-class facility which has set the benchmark for the industry.
Moreover, the UCT Executive introduced a bus shuttle service, called the Jammie Shuttle, free to all UCT students and staff. A fleet of 26 buses, including a special one for disabled passengers, operates between residences, all UCT campuses and some public bus, train and parking facilities close to the university.
Fallism: “wake-up call” and “déjà vu” or nightmare and ‘déjà poo’?
Fast-forwarding to 2015-2016, the grievances of Fallist students and academics were NOT “much the same [as those] almost three decades ago”. The new residence-related complaint by Fallists with whom the Executive ‘negotiated’ was that there was an inordinately high representation of “foreigners” (international students irrespective of ‘race’?) and “whites” from the Cape Town southern suburbs in UCT residences sensu lato – to the disadvantage of blacks. This ‘grievance’ smacks of xenophobia and race-based exclusion that appears to argue for exacerbating the alleged ghetto-like status of UCT residences. Ironically, the one clear ‘similarity’ between the events during the 1980s and 2015-2016 was the accusers’ arguably less-than-decent modes of protest. However, during the latter period, the protest was illegal and included: verbal and physical assaults on anyone (old, young, black, white, male, female, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, staff, student, etc.) who failed to: acquiesce to militant Fallist demands; honour erection of barricades; and support acts of intimidation, vandalism and arson that shut UCT down.
Negotiating for non-violence
Instead of holding law-breaking Fallists accountable for their destructive ‘protests’, with time running out vis-à-vis end-of-year exams, during November 2016, four members of the UCT Executive (including Prof. Mall) chose to meet with nine of these non-representative, politically radical, law-breaking Fallists – not the extant SRC. After prolonged ‘negotiations’, during which Fallist demands became more and more ridiculous, these individuals signed an Agreement for non-violence. The nine Fallists (including arrested, convicted and imprisoned law-breaker Masixole Mlandu) were mainly from PASMA [a relatively poorly supported radical, ideologically monolithic, revolutionary movement “guided by the philosophies of Pan Africanism and Marxism-Leninism] that does not tolerate individualistic “opportunist elements”]. Although the 2016 end-of-year exams were written, albeit with difficulty and academic damage, those for 2017 had to be written in defended tents on the rugby field. Moreover, in July 2017, Mlandu and another PASMA SRC member were accused of sexual harassment and rape. They admitted misbehaving, but evaded prosecution when accusers declined to charge them formally. In early 2018, UCT’s Council – following a recommendation of the controversial Internal Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (IRTC) – rapidly granted unconditional amnesty to Mlandu and other law-breaking Fallist protesters and wiped their law-breaking files clean. This was done without identifying them by name or releasing their testimony as victims of ‘rife’ racism and its proponents within institutionally racist UCT.
Two months later, at the April graduation, amnestied Fallist Chumani Maxwele (see here and here) made a mockery of the proceedings. Once again, he insulted VC Price personally and made threatening gestures towards him and VC-designate Phakeng.
Multi-amnestied Mlandu took a little longer to re-initiate his ‘activism’. In his 2018 Political Sciences Honours dissertation, the Acknowledgements – resplendent with spelling and grammatical errors – he shows his ‘true colours’:
“One day the misery we receive under the settler palm shall be return (sic)upon them [‘whites’].” “ONE SETTLER, ONE BULLET!!”
When pressed on the ‘bullet’ statement, he was unequivocal:
“EACH BULLET WILL TAKE US CLOSER TO FREEDOM.”
Mlandu was inadvertently congratulated by new UCT VC Phakeng on attaining his degree. However, although she “specifically distanced herself from threats of violence”, Mlandu was not disciplined for violating ‘decent behaviour’. Despite VC Phakeng’s statement that Mlandu “must take responsibility for what he wrote and face the criticism or praise that comes with it”, my requests to him, the Department of Political Sciences and the Faculty of Humanities for a copy of the full, 35-page, examined dissertation have been unsuccessful. Without access to such documents, after being ‘awakened’ by Fallism, how can the UCT community become fully ‘Woke’ to social injustices relating to apartheid, race and racism? This denial of access to UCT research results now falls under the rubric of ‘invisible knowledge’ to add to UCT’s vocabulary along-side “invisible racism” and “invisible wounds” (sensu Xolela Mangcu). One could even throw in ‘invisible leadership’ to describe UCT during 2015-2018.
Where does UCT go from here?
Before UCT can move forward, its past needs to be chronicled fully, warts-and-all (including what Phillips calls ALL of its “beauty spots”), by a full spectrum of Her community. In order to fully understand the nature of the UCT student activism and movements, one needs to evaluate the nature of the political system and cultural context within which protesters operate. If this is done, a case can be made to demonstrate that, although Her post-AIM-terrorism community chose not to undertake militant activism, UCT remained an effective epicentre of anti-government protest – hence UCT’s epithet “Little Moscow on the Hill”.
“The best lack all conviction, and the worst are filled with a horrible intensity”.
UCT’s ‘best’ were the UCT Executive and Senate who (despite their statutory responsibilities), at best, kowtowed/prostrated themselves, groveling to and complying with a few recidivist lawbreakers and members of parallel structures. The ‘worst’ were, and still are, a cabal of extreme radicals and anarchists who see history and knowledge as ‘lies commonly agreed upon’. More specifically, even in the face of recent peer-reviewed research co-authored by Price and rulings by the Western Cape High Court the worst are:
- self-serving, Broederbond-like members of the secretive/amorphous Black Academic Caucus (BAC see here, here and here) whose primary aim is to advance their careers, in some cases apparently unencumbered by qualifications and experience;
- the small (fewer than 50) group of often endlessly-registered, angry, destructive Fallist students who (encouraged and defended by the BAC) appear to be leaderless and comfortable with criminal behaviour – like their pro-violence predecessors during the 1960s;
- academics and student activists who see Politics not as a formal discipline, but as an intimidation-based, amnesty-driven process of defeating situationally-identified ‘others’ and disciplining those who co-self-identify but question group dogma;
- those who prefer a power- rather than truth-based pursuit of knowledge; and
- social engineers (including some DVCs) who are ‘long’ on ideology and raising money and increasing government subsidies and ‘short’ on producing peer-reviewed and highly-cited publications and successful graduates.
In short, the ‘sparks’, ‘winds’ and ‘ripples” of the 1960s have become ‘conflagrations’, ‘cyclones’ and ‘tsunamis’ in the 2000s. If the ‘worst’ have their way, I predict that Africa’s preeminent educationalist Prof. Jonathan Jansen will republish his article on the current situation at the University of KwaZulu-Natal by enacting a ‘global change’ of “KwaZulu-Natal” to “Cape Town” to produce:
UKZN UCT: It’s terrible seeing a varsity die, especially as it was preventable.
I hope I’m wrong.