Myth and Reality at UCT: The Nattrass Affair

Myth vs Reality at the University of Cape Town (UCT): Who’s bullying who and why?  Part 1 – The Nattrass Affair  Tim Crowe Since May 2020, UCT has been beset...

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Myth vs Reality at the University of Cape Town (UCT): Who’s bullying who and why?

 Part 1 – The Nattrass Affair

 Tim Crowe

Since May 2020, UCT has been beset with an avoidable ‘perfect storm’ (in military jargon – clusterf**k) involving ‘bullying’ from which no one involved will emerge unscathed. This ‘storm’ comprises what may be described as the Nattrass, Mayosi and Ombud ‘Affairs’.

My goals in three pieces are to place these Affairs in ethical and socio-political contexts within UCT’s Fallist-era history.

The Nattrass ‘Affair’

The Nattrass ‘Affair’ was ‘triggered’ by the May-2020 publication of a sociologically controversial and academically fatally flawed (here, here and here) Commentary“Why are black South African students less likely to consider studying biological sciences?”. The Commentary  was, in fact, “exploratory research” conducted by UCT socio-economist Prof. Nicoli Nattrass in her capacity as co-director of the Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild) and reinforces conclusions from her sociological treatise – Class, Race, and Inequality in South Africa – in which Nattrass argued that “the primary basis of inequality in South Africa shifted from race to class under apartheid”. The fact that the Commentary was published (without peer-review) in the South African Journal of Science (SAJS) – the flagship journal of the Academy of Science of South Africa – gave it further inordinate ‘significance’.

The Commentary‘s key conclusion is:

Class-related, post-materialistic, positive attitudes toward wildlife can “shape study and career choices and cut across self-identified racial categories” and “overwhelm the effect of ‘race’“.

 The Commentary elicited a flurry of hyperbolic tweets and media pieces alleging methodological and conceptual flaws, racism and ethics violations by Nattrass and/or her critics. In July 2020, in an attempt to resolve the Affair in a scholarly manner, the South African Academy of Science (title owner and publisher of SAJS) published a multi-article Special Issue of the SAJS – including a 36-page Defence by Nattrass.

Black Academic Caucus (BAC) – ‘Twitter Statements’ – 4 & 9 June

The BAC’s tweets are authored anonymously, by some of its “outraged”/“disgusted” members. The first tweet is undated, lacks a title and multiply misspells the name of South African Journal of Science(s) (sic). After complaining about the paucity of references in the Commentary, the authors cite (but do not reference) ‘relevant’ previous research and brand Nattrass as a racist by immediately ‘linking’ the Commentary to a racist article Age- and education-related effects on cognitive functioning in Colored South African women.

The tweet ‘connects’ the two publications only by stating: “Here we go again.”

There are also claimed links to another offensive, UCT-connected publication – “Intelligence and Slave Exports from Africa” – by an adjunct professor at UCT. He resigned after the UCT Executive distanced itself from his “study based on or proposing racial stereotypes” that is “contradictory to UCT’s academic values and standards of scholarship”.

‘Complementing’ this ‘evidence’, the tweet uses a host of inflammatory/defamatory words/phrases: e.g. “tropes about black students and black people”; “publishing this sort of material is not unprecedented in the long and intertwined histories of research advocating eugenics”; “historically fictionalized stereotypes conjured up by the white imagination” …

One might argue that, before it can claim credibility or make demands, the BAC should drop the cloaks of secrecy and anonymity that are not bestowed on comparably-statutory, non-racial entities within UCT and enter into rigorous, civil and face-to-face debate.

Statement by the UCT Executive – 5 June

A day after the BAC’s initial tweet, UCT issued a widely circulated, unauthored Statement on behalf of the UCT “Executive” that appears to reinforce the BAC position. The Statement describes the Commentary as a “study based on or proposing racial stereotypes” that is “contradictory to UCT’s academic values and standards of scholarship”. It mentions [but does not specify] the Commentary’s “methodological and conceptual flaws” and questions the “standard and ethics of [the] research”. It judges the Commentary as “offensive to black students at UCT; black people in general and to any academic who understands that the quality of research is inextricably linked to its ethical grounding”. It refers to “unexamined assumptions about what black people think, feel, aspire to and are capable of”, and a failure “to examine the historical and ideological roots of academic disciplines” and consider “the role that power differentials have in closing or opening possibilities and choices in the life of individuals and communities”.

Unlike the BAC Tweets, regarding to the principle of Academic Freedom, the Statement “welcomes rigorous and respectful debate on all issues pertaining to transformation” and “endorse[s] the right of critical review and response to published academic work, including in this case, commentaries, and the right of reply in these academic forums”. In the end, the Executive “distance[d] itself from the content of the paper [Commentary]” and indicated its intention to “investigat[e] the matter further”.

Nattrass’ ‘hatchet-job’ response – 6 June

Nattrass is described as accus[ing] UCT of “bending to political pressure”. She responded to BAC tweet and Executive, maintaining that:

  1. She had “presented our results to an international institutional review panel chaired by Deputy Vice-chancellor Sue Harrison” in a form “pretty much what was published in the SAJS Commentary”.
  2. “[N]o one at the panel meeting [including Harrison] raised any concerns over the Commentary’s questions or the analysis”.
  3. She “was encouraged [by unnamed international panel members] to publish the commentary as a contribution to the important debate on transformation”.
  4. The Executive Statement “bears the hallmarks of a rushed, error-filled, hatchet job in response to political pressure from the Black Academic Caucus (BAC) and student activists [Fallists?]”.
  5. The BAC rejected the Commentary “because it does not comply with the BAC’s narrow, ideological and paradigmatic approach” and “because she is white”.

UCT is on a “slippery slope” – Belinda Bozzoli – 7-8 June

Democratic Alliance (DA) Shadow Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Belinda Bozzoli expanded the Affair to the national stage. Reacting to the South African Sunday Times Opinion & Analysis granting Nattrass the week’s Mampara (fool, buffoon, idiot) Award under the heading MAKING A SCIENCE OF STUPIDITY for producing half-baked research, Bozzoli called on the UCT Executive to:

  1. retract its ill-considered Statement vis-à-vis Nattrass’ “research paper”;
  2. cease trying to get the SAJS to withdraw it;
  3. avoid “jumping on the lynch mob bandwagon”;
  4. close this “can of worms”; and
  5. defend Nattrass’ right to publish.

The UCT Executive – prompted by the bullying BAC and bullying student activists – is “hanging [Nattrass] out to dry in public”. Worse still it is prepared to ignore the Constitution (particularly its Bill of Rights) and “clearly entered into the business of censorship”.

“The only mamparas as far as this matter is concerned, are the University of Cape Town, the Sunday Times and all other keyboard activists who perpetuate a culture that undermines free thinking and academic freedom.”

“UCT has abrogated Nattrass’ rights by yielding to pressure by a group on campus calling itself the Black Academic Caucus”, making Nattrass a “public target”, “throwing her to the wolves”, adding to the Price-led-UCT’s track record of betraying long-held principles, making UCT “ripe for the picking”, e.g. by an “overweening government” (and radicals within the BAC and Fallist Movements) seeking to push tertiary education further “down the dangerous, slippery slope it is on”.

Nattrass radio interview with Talk 702 – 8 June

Nattrass stated: “I don’t understand why anyone thinks this [the Commentary] is dehumanising, [patronising] or racist.” The Commentary [described as a “controversial paper”, “preliminary/ exploratory investigation”] was motivated by her being “informed” that the 2020 class of the highly regarded and successful UCT Master’s class in Conservation Biology (CB Course) had no black South Africans and that it had generally been “so unsuccessful in attracting blacks”.

Nattrass could have learned much more about the CB Course’s ‘success’, subject choices and career aspirations of UCT CB-grads if she or her agents had communicated with them, their academic mentors and other interested and affected parties – and not just randomly selected ‘black’ students having lunch.

Thus, the Commentary‘s scientifically fatally flawed “exploratory research” arguably demeaned the ‘subjects’ of its research and weaponized radical and destructive elements within UCT bent on ‘exposing’ a ‘failing’ Faculty of Science and destructively ‘decolonizing’ UCT.

Tumult at UCT Part 1: the challenges of transformation and “Thought Police” – 9 June

Nattrass began positively. “Students and scholars steeped in post-colonial theory [especially increasing numbers of blacks] have injected energy into transformation by highlighting the ways that language and academic practices can reflect and consolidate white privilege”. This “pushes” her and other “older, white scholars” “to re-examine our assumptions and behaviour”, and “most of this has been for the good”.

However, the ‘push’ has acquired a “Manichean [‘good vs evil’] underside of intolerance” promoted by radical elements within the BAC and Fallists. Those who profess an alternative “disqualifying history” or do not comply with this coalition’s new and intolerant hegemonic project and vision of UCT are harassed by “thought police”.

More Tumult at UCT: Part 2 – the challenges of transformation – 10 June

“Filled with dismay” Nattrass emphasized that she is “no stranger to having my work challenged and questioned” vis-à-vis a “rush to judgement and condemnation without any kind of discussion”. UCT’s “Executive” – pushed by the BAC through its “privileged representation on UCT’s Council, Senate and other structures” – employs a kind of “condemnation that shuts down” discussion.

Nattrass provides no evidence of additional ‘collusion’ between the Executive and the BAC or that UCT is controlled by a “secret network (including individuals with executive power) “institutionalising a new hegemony – not unlike the secretive, influential and highly divisive Afrikaner Broederbond”. She uses literally ‘inflammatory’ comments: “But when the book-burners are throwing the work into the fire, it is impossible to have reasoned debate over what is contained within the pages.” The UCT “Executive” effectively fanned the flames by its “public condemnation and disciplinary action against offenders” and “instructing research ethics committees to prohibit research [e.g. the Commentary] that deviates from the approved line”. Although she “regrets wholeheartedly any hurt that I have unintentionally caused through my commentary” ”I cannot and will not apologise” for:

  1. being a (white) researcher;
  2. studying pressing social, economic and environmental challenges and injustices;
  3. believing that there is value in mixed methods research that includes the analysis of quantitative data;
  4. taking seriously students’ agency through researching their attitudes and choices;
  5. producing a work that provokes people into understanding the world and themselves in new ways; and
  6. suggesting that the actions of the UCT “Executive” are a threat to the university itself and to its standing in the world.
  • Her ‘un-apology’ only applies in the case of Point 1. The Special Issue of the SAJS, exposes the Commentary’s [and her Defence’s] fatal scholarly/educational/sociological flaws. No academic familiar with conservation biology has endorsed the Commentary as biologically, educationally or sociologically valuable research. Prof. Jimi Adesina [NRF B-rated and DST/NRF SARChI Chair in Social Policy at the University of South Africa and member of the Academy of Science of South Africa] provides a point-for-point, damaging sociological critique of the Commentary in his piece in the Special IssueThe Anatomy of a Bad Science: Reflections on Nattrass’ ‘commentary’.
  • Veterans of the 1968 Mafeje protest: 10 June
  • The “veterans” are – like me – a bunch of old ‘geezers’ who were at university during 1968. Unlike me, they had/have considerable influence within UCT. In their “statement“ to the VC, they incorrectly self-identify as protesters “who took up the cause” by staging a sit-in challenging “the racist treatment of Archie Mafeje by UCT”. They staged a sit-in but achieved nothing substantive to help Mafeje’s cause. In Mafeje’s words, the Sit-Inwas a “meaningless and futile farce”. His treatment by UCT was used by protesters to “promote their own leftist agendas”. The veterans describe the current UCT Executive’s statement as having “a distinctly threatening tone” vis-à-vis Academic Freedom, but decline to comment on the Commentary’s scholarly flaws.

‘Unnatural’ Conservation is yet another legacy of colonialism – 10 June

The UCT Executive’s Office for Inclusivity and Change (OIC) counter the ‘Vets’, describing Nattrass as essentially “trivialis[ing] and simplify[ing] race and “reifying racist tropes”. The Commentary is based on “a set of unquestioned assumptions” and a “simplistic application of a racial lens (if we can call it that) in relation to the important question about access to the curriculum”. They rightly point out that it does not address four critical questions: “How does this study understand race? How is ‘black’ defined? Who are the ‘other students’?” “What constitutes the lived experience of black students?” Nattrass also unjustifiably associated Fallism “automatically with negative attitudes towards conservation biology and the national parks”. Nattrass’ “colonial tools may confirm colonial logics”, and the Commentary “tells us more about the researcher’s views on race than the experience of the black students”.

In their [‘Thought Police’?] view, “conservation is for the middle class” and “capitalist exploits of empire and colonialism led to the destruction of natural environments and the subsequent efforts to conserve them”. “Conservation exists because capitalist intrusions have destroyed ecosystems, and current and historic inequity ensures that poor, indigenous and black people are often excluded from the decision-making table when it comes to the natural environment”. The fact that “black students are not present in [biology] classrooms might have little to do with their ‘materialism’ and much more with their history of land dispossession and exclusion“.

 Want to write about black people? Make very sure of your facts – 11 June

Next at bat was South Africa’s doyen of education – Jonathan Jansen – an NRF A-rated Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Stellenbosch and currently President of the South African Academy of Science (publishers of SAJS). He started his career as a biology teacher in the Cape after receiving his science degree from the University of the Western Cape.

He pulls no punches:

The UCT Executive’s behaviour is “so chilling that it should send shivers down our democratic spines”.

“Someone” within university executive: placed a call to the editor of the scholarly journal [SAJS] to complain about the piece. Worse, “the UCT Black Academic Caucus fired off a letter to a senior politician” — the political head of higher education — with this injunction: “We strongly call upon you to withdraw this publication from the journal.”

“Not even apartheid’s apparatchiks would pull a stunt like that.”

Jansen also debunks the Commentary:

“Here’s the problem — the reasons for student choices of certain disciplines and degrees is much more complex than can be derived from simple survey questions.”

He concludes:

“There is a lesson that is not being learnt — that when white researchers embark on studies of black people’s behaviours it should be done with a healthy dose of self-awareness, intellectual humility and social caution.”

Black academics not offended – 13 June

Two non-biologist black academics respond, saying that the UCT Executive and the BAC do not speak on their behalf. Since universities are, by design, places of “discomfort” at which academic, political and social boundaries are tested, uncomfortable questions are posed and received truths are challenged, they are “not offended” by the Commentary’s reference to “materialism”. The “censorious response of the BAC and Executive” constitutes a “hauling [of Nattrass] over the coals” because they “perversely… do not want the academic community to see the connection between poverty and material aspiration”. The BAC tweets and the Executive Statement may be “outrage porn” so typical of social media that has “clearly begun to infiltrate the academic project”.

Executive’s reaction to Commentary deeply disturbing – 15 June  Former UCT academics

Eminent former UCT academics came to Nattrass’ defence. They are “deeply disturbed” by the Executive’s complaints to the SAJS about the Commentary and emphasize Nattrass’ caveat that the Commentary is “exploratory” and its findings “tentative” and are “clearly… preparatory to a larger study”. Regardless of the Commentary’s scholarly merits, “the reaction of UCT’s executive to the article was extraordinary” because “it claimed that that it was ‘offensive to black students at UCT, to black people in general’ and, by inference, could be inferred as racist in character”. Nattrass’ academic history argues strongly for rejecting any such characterization.

Their “principal objection to the executive’s action” is the “belief (or hope)” that “it – or an influential group of students or academics can block the publication or circulation of an article”. They “reject in principle the executive’s right to engage in this form of censorship”.

Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA) Response to “scientific racism” – 16 June

This “official” anti-Nattrass response “notes with grave concern” and “indignation expressed by many in the academy, our own membership in PsySSA, and the broader public” “for whom questions of race, racialisation and racism remain central within their lived experience”. “The implicitly racialised nature of the commentary and its potential to recapitulate elements of racialism, that of course have their origins partly in earlier forms of scientific racism”. It is “fatally flawed” and “was a missed opportunity for Prof Nattrass to engage more reflexively with her contribution to a publication that has not met the minimum standards of ethical nor rigorous scholarship”. It is lacking in “sensitivity, reflexivity, and critical self-awareness of [Nattrass’] potential prejudices, power, and privileges”. “There is no significant engagement with the complex histories and varied permutations of materialist and post-materialist attitudes and the ways in which they cut across race and class divides in South Africa”. Finally, ‘Fallism’ is not unpacked as a political current that itself is complex and has different forms of traction within different sectors of the student population and beyond. Hence, they demand that Nattrass “unconditionally apologise” for her published commentary and the SAJS to should retract it immediately.

Nattrass’ ‘well-poisoning’ Open Letter to Research DVC Prof. Sue Harrison – 19 June

Nattrass’ ‘Letter’ was motivated by “a series of [unanswered] emails and detailed private letters [to Harrison] posing questions concerning [her] leading role” in the UCT Executive’s “summary judgement” and other actions vis-à-vis the Commentary. The UCT Executive [with Harrison acting as point-person] is “broken down” and has “inadequate formal channels”. Its actions to date as an “unprocedural and prejudicial witch-hunt”, “abuse of power”, “rushed judgement”, “public condemnation” of her and her research. The Executive’s Statement was a “totally inappropriate public statement of censure in advance of any substantive investigation” that:

  1. “passed summary judgement” on Nattrass;
  2. “poisoned the well for any subsequent investigation”;
  3. “fueled” another twittered outcry from “some people [BAC?]”; and
  4. “reveals multiple conflicts of interest and inconsistency on [Harrison’s] part.

The Executive “condemns [her] in an “apparently unprecedented and totally inappropriate public statement of censure in advance of any substantive investigation”, “formulated and assessed in the light of the outcry from some people” [the ‘authors’ of the BAC twitter?]. Then comes some personal ‘bullying’ by Nattrass.

“A cynic might wonder whether you have an interest in trying to ‘bury’ this record or your prior knowledge of and evident acquiescence in such allegedly flawed research [i.e. at the institutional review panel].” She asks her about her “role in what I am experiencing as a ‘witch-hunt’ against me” since she was “presiding over the Research Misconduct investigation into me”. “It appears that, in discussion with the Commerce Faculty, you yourself wrestled back control over the investigation. I understand that this was on Saturday 6th June, more than 24 hours after the Executive had issued its public statement of condemnation. I believe that this was unprocedural in terms of Commerce Faculty and University policies.”

In short, Nattrass accuses Harrison of having a “conflict of interest” and “hijacking” the investigation into her potentially inappropriate actions in “an attempt to find some post-hoc justification for [the Executive’s] ill-considered Statement.” She calls for Harrison to consider “stepping aside” or “resigning” because she has “taken the leading role in the flawed process leading to a flawed statement”, “wrestled control over the Research Misconduct investigation away from the responsible faculty, in violation of the university’s procedures” and “initiated an investigation into me, with what can reasonably be seen as the objective of providing post hoc justification for your prior statement”.

 The Nattrass case and the dangers of an ahistorical analogy – 20 June

Some non-scientist critics ‘place’ the Commentary within an historical perspective. They identify a “number of inaccurate, problematic, and dangerous historical claims” by Nattrass and her defenders:

  1. the BAC is “dangerous, unnecessary, and unjustifiable” and is a cabal parallel to the Afrikaner Broederbond at the height of Apartheid;
  2. it is erroneous to portray Nattrass as a ‘Jew’ being silenced by a Nazi “German Academic Caucus or the Deutscher Dozentenbund”; and
  3. her “white allies” at UCT unjustifiably self-identify as key players in the 1968 Mafeje Protest as arbiters for contemporary debates on race.

Claims made by Nattrass and other white patriarchs are “decontextualised comparisons and grave misrepresentations of power” attempting to “distract from the critiques of the actual weaknesses of Nattrass’s research, and defend against the long overdue, much needed, and difficult work of subordinated groups attempting to challenge the reproduction of white privilege and structural racism in institutions like UCT at this current time”.

In short: “The tears in support of Nattrass are not innocent tears.” They constitute part of a “global backlash” reasserting “hard white politics” designed “to silence important and necessary critique”.

They amount to nothing beyond “a cheap and dangerous shot” “deliberately inverting current power relations, obscuring ongoing white supremacy, emboldening white conservatives and liberals alike.”

Oppressed BAC “victims” are unjustly cast as “perpetrators”.  The BAC is actually “an organisation formed to challenge racism and systemic power, not as a tool to secretly wield and organise systemic power and spread essentialised racist apartheid ideology”. The anonymity employed by the BAC “comes from the fact that black academics at white institutions are targeted and often suffer greatly for speaking against institutional power” and “colonial legacies very much alive in South Africa today”. BAC academics need to be “shielded” “from the real dangers of acting as named individuals in a hostile institutional context”. White liberals “dismiss the calls for decolonisation by the student movement, by claiming to know better, and to have already fixed the problem; ‘we led you, now listen and wait’.”

Power at UCT: When the ‘Executive’ follows the BAC’s lead, individuals are trampled – 22 June

Two days later Nattrass vigorously rebutted the ‘historicists’. She decries their portrayal of her as “as part of a white supremacist establishment that continues to run UCT” that challenges credibility of the BAC as “a necessary bulwark against white racists that has taken on the mantle of Steve-Biko’s  South African Students Organisation (SASO) founded 50 years ago”. She maintains that a “white (liberal) establishment no longer runs UCT” and “welcomes this change”. It’s the ‘historicists’ that cling to the belief that the BAC today faces the same oppression encountered by Biko and SASO 50 years ago. But, “over time the BAC appears to have been transformed from being a disruptive (and often productive) movement from below into a secret network (including individuals with executive power) institutionalising a new hegemony”. There is no justification for a BAC based or a need for a safe space for black scholars. In fact, “like the Broederbond”, the BAC has “sought and continues to seek to manoeuvre its members into positions of power, including within universities, initially against the establishment and then from within the establishment, but always with the apparent objective of institutionalising a new hegemony”.

She tellingly asks:

“Yes, let’s think about power. Who wields power within the university? It seems that there are no checks and balances on the use or abuse of power by members of the “Executive”, at least not in the short term.”

My ‘take’

The bottom line is that, in addition to being fatally flawed scientifically, Nattrass’ Commentary and Defence in the SAJS Special Issue are racially naïve [insensitive?], arguably offensive and highly dangerous socio-politically. With regard to racial insensitivity, in her Defence, Nattrass denies according “natural status” to ‘blacks’ as a “group”, but then defends her “distinction” of ‘blacks’ as a study group because it is “relevant for transformation”. In the Commentary, she maintains that blacks “may be interested in [“higher-paying”] careers other than in conservation” – e.g. “accountancy and law” – “because of their relatively disadvantaged backgrounds” and “key determinant” “materialist values”. This demeans students who actually aspire to become accountants and lawyers and creates the impression that the ‘black materialists’ seek education at UCT primarily in the pursuit of ‘filthy lucre’.

Moreover, although Nattrass denies the existence of “essential” black “attitudes or beliefs”, her “exploratory research” her statistical analyses ‘discover’ “a set of attitudes and beliefs relating to wildlife” which:

  1. are “more prevalent among black South Africans”;
  2. individually and collectively, “cut across selfidentified (sic) racial categories”; and
  3. “provide[s] a deracialized explanation” that “help us to understand why black South African students in my sample were less likely have considered studying biological sciences or to want careers in wildlife conservation.”

What were the socio-political goals of the Commentary?

At first glance, they are embodied in its title: Why are black South African students less likely to consider studying biological sciences? However, the Commentary offers no evidence for this lack of ‘consideration’. Despite the availability of necessary ‘race-based’ demographic data in UCT’s Faculty of Science and biology departments, critiques in the Special Issue demonstrate that there was no pre-commentary research that actually demonstrates that black students who study science or biology at UCT [let alone other South African universities] actually shun courses that focus on biology in general and conservation in particular. It also doesn’t identify a disciplinary ‘deficiency’ in biology at UCT on local and international stages. Indeed, biology is one of the ‘best subjects‘ to study at South Africa’s top universities. Moreover, in an analysis published in the leading international conservation journal Conservation Biology, in terms of the impact of university-based conservation-based research UCT ranks No. 1 in the Southern Hemisphere and in the top five internationally.

If Nattrass were serious bout addressing her ‘question’, given his commentary in the Special IssueA question worth asking – one clearly suitable collaborator would have been conservation biologist UCT Emeritus Prof. Jeremy Midgley who also believes that there is a “relative lack of black South African students registered for senior undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Biological Sciences” at UCT. He was head of a department in Biological Sciences for nearly a decade and is the spouse of Prof. Nicola Illing, a long-serving past HoD of Molecular and Cell Biology and a member of the Steering Committee of the IRTC. Other potentially key ‘black’ collaborators would have been Maano Ramutsindela and Elelwani Nenzhelele. Prof. Ramutsindela is an eminent scholar vis-à-vis transfrontier conservation in Africa, political ecology and in the broader research on society and nature. Equally important, he is the current Dean of Science and a member of Nattrass’ iCWild Advisory Board. Ms Nenzhelele a UCT MSc graduate who participated in the Bioscience’s post-graduate Programme in Conservation Biology. One of her research supervisors was a CB graduate!  Elelwani is now a biology lecturer at Sol Plaatje University. When asked to comment on her CB-Course ‘experience’, Elelwani said:

“It is important because we learn a lot from each other more than we did in the class. We learn from each other’s experiences and knowledge about conservation issues, culture and traditions from all the people of different backgrounds. It is so nice to be in a diverse class because as much as you think you are different, at the end of the day we are the same HUMANS and our common goal is to make a world a better place.”

If the Commentary really is “preparatory to a larger study” and Nattrass and – hopefully – black collaborators/co-authors should actually conduct the “more research [that] is needed on potential socio-economic and cultural correlates of having considered studying biological sciences or a career in conservation biology”. If they take cognizance of relevant scholarly, educational, sociological and ethical criticisms of her “exploratory research”, those responsible of educating conservation biologists at UCT may be able to adapt conservation biology education to make it more relevant to black South African students.

If, however, the Commentary was intended to provoke the UCT Executive and its BAC partners within the ‘new and intolerant hegemony” to react in ways that violate academic freedom, it was highly effective.

It the meantime, I agree with my colleague Michael Cherry [a former student and fellow alumnus of the UCT Zoology Department, professor of zoology at Stellenbosch University and a former editor-in-chief of the SAJS] sharing his “grave disquiet” of an apparent “lack of collegiality” and “silence” amongst UCT academics. Are Nattrass’ Commentary and Defence “bad science” permeated with racially offensive “stereotypes” “contradictory to UCT’s academic values and standards of scholarship”? Or, is Nattrass the latest victim of a destructively ‘decolonizing’ UCT?

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King jr.

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