Names, Sticks, Stones and Fire Bombs: Destroying UCT

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A bakkie that had been set alight on campus. Source: Twitter @netwerk24.

Adam Habib, the University of Witwatersrand’s (WITS) vice chancellor (VC), has cogently made this point. He stresses that the behaviour of activists who “subscribe to radical or leftist thinking” but employ “strategies and tactics of the right” [sometimes mirroring those of Apartheid activists] could transform the liberation movement into “a parody of what it once was” and “cost lives”. Indeed, during the last three years at my alma mater and employer for 40 years, the University of Cape Town (UCT), character defamation has damaged many. Psychologically and professionally, irrespective of ‘race’, ‘gender’, age or ideology, precipitating the departures of two eminent deans and the death of a third.

Was this tragedy avoidable? Yes!

More than four score years ago, UCT’s racist VC set a precedent by acting on ‘Habib’s dictum’. He unilaterally expelled the right-wing, racist, anti-Semitic, nationalist Afrikaner Nasionale Studentebond (ASB) from campus when its members departed from “decent behaviour” by defaming and verbally/physically assaulting people of colour and progressive Jewish colleagues.

Despite this in-house policy for dealing with race-motivated, illegal behaviour and the existence of an internationally respected Constitution that condemns crimen injuria and hate speech, UCT student Sinawo Thambo cavalierly dismisses Habib’s comments. He characterizes them as a “rant posing as an analysis” and “an appeal to post-modernist classist sensibilities” and “fearmongering” from “an administrator of a university that has meted out unspeakable violence” on “structurally disempowered people” – Fallists and Economic Freedom Fighters supporters in particular. Thambo is chairperson of the Western Cape Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFFSC), a radical, revolutionary and militant student political movement inspired by Marxist-Leninist and Fanonian schools of thought. He is also a highly influential member of UCT’s Student Representative Council (SRC) and challenges the validity of the widely used National Benchmark Test system (NBT) developed by Professor Nan Yeld, Dean of UCT’s Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED), to assess entry-level academic and quantitative literacy and mathematics proficiency of students. From Thambo’s perspective, activists at UCT were “criminalized” “for speaking truth to racists in a robust manner”.  Thambo also dismisses Sobukwe and Mandela’s preference for civil political discourse, pre- and post-liberation, as “tired respectability politics”. But, at least his arguments have a veneer of civility.

Fellow UCT Fallists Masixole Mlandu, Simon Rakei and Brian Kamanzi eschew even this tactic. Mlandu is a leader of the Pan-Africanist Student Movement of Azania (PASMA), a relatively poorly supported, ideologically monolithic, radical revolutionary political movement also “guided by the philosophies of Pan Africanism and Marxism-Leninism. Its goal is “total liberation of all humanity through a working class revolution and establishment and construction of classless society”. It does not tolerate individualistic “opportunist elements”. He was a leader of the massively destructive “Shackville Protest” on campus and has allegedly been involved (and ‘multi-amnestied’ for) with numerous other illegal violent and destructive acts. Despite this unlawful behaviour, he was: bailed out of jail; selected by Price to act as a key negotiator in drafting the highly controversial November 2016 Agreement; and was  ‘elected’ to the SRC.  After being once again amnestied for undisclosed illegal acts by the Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (IRTC) [a creation of the Agreement] and UCT’s Council in early 2018, he tweeted the Acknowledgements section of his Political Science Honours dissertation [replete with spelling and grammatical errors] that called for revenge and retaliation against “settlers:

“One day the misery we feel under the settler palm shall be return (sic) upon them….

ONE SETTLER, ONE BULLET!!”

When ‘twittered’ for clarification, he re-emphasised his tactical rather than euphemistic interpretation of this “slogan”:

“One settler, One bullet. Each bullet will take us closer to freedom.”

When further pressed as to his reaction to the tweets removal, he made matters even clearer:

“I didn’t delete it some white clown reported me. Well the message is clear, even a blind person can see.”

Even without my spectacles, it seems clear that he has embraced the vision of his UCT academic ‘father’ and supervisor, Lwazi Lushaba: “a time will come along soon when we [radical Fallists] will run UCT on our own and give them a new value system and not at the whim of ‘White’ sentiment.” All that’s missing is the means Fallists will use to take and wield power. Perhaps that’s covered in the body of Mlandu’s Honours dissertation that it will be in the public domain once it’s been marked, and that he will be required to defend (and held accountable for) its contents.

Simon Rakei is a Finance and Tax UCT post-graduate student and seasoned debater with 167135 Linkedin followers. His key initial role as a Fallist was to help to devise and issue questionable demand-after-demand that caused the shutting down of the academic process at UCT, even in the face of VC Price’s concession-after-concession. He re-entered the fray in earnest at the February 2017 Annual General Meeting of the UCT Convocation when he was invited by Convocation President Barney Pityana to “peacefully” attend the meeting and make a 5-minute presentation.  Rakei went well beyond the allotted time. He began by characterizing the Convocation as “illegitimate” because the majority of attendees were “white”. He then went on to describe UCT as “institutionally racist” and underpinned by “a system of rules designed to oppress blacks”. As was done at the December 2016 Convocation AGM by another Fallist [an unidentified bi-spectacled ‘black’ woman wearing black depicted at 5 min 36 sec in a video], he spewed hate speech, multiply defaming me as “Jim Crow”: a white theatrical performer who performed an act in blackface makeup and shabby dress that demeaned enslaved black persons. The term is also linked indelibly to laws promulgated after the Civil War to discriminate against African Americans emancipated from slavery. Finally, Rakei demanded that UCT disband the “illegitimate”, anti-Fallist, Student Representative Council stating that, if his demands were not acceded to, there would be “consequences”. Soon after this, he was designated a Shackville TRC ‘representative’ on the IRTC Steering Committee. Most recently, he has joined the arguably illegitimate and secretive Black Academic Caucus (BAC) in accusing the “fumbling” UCT Executive and a duly constituted, ‘race-gender representative’ selection committee of perpetuating racism at UCT by “overlooking the more qualified [‘black’] candidate”. In reality, the committee (and through it the UCT Council) had “access to confidential referees’ reports and an in-depth interview, as well as the confidential feedback from the audiences that listened to the candidates’ presentations”. None of this information could (nor should) be disclosed to Rakei or the BAC. Since that time, the BAC appears to have been attempting to restrict appointments of two new deans to ‘black’ South Africans, but the processes are confidential and still in limbo. As to his vision for decolonizing UCT, here is a quote from a Rakei piece entitled: A quest on crafting identity and the road towards decolonising the curriculum:

“Quite simply the logical conclusion of decolonisation is to say we demand everything.   We do not want the world as it is and instead want for a new imagining of the world, which I agree with, but we need to have it first and [then?] decide what to do with it”.

Last, but not least, is Brian Kamanzi, an electrical engineering Masters student and a widely-read public intellectual. But, he is perhaps best known for his key role within the Curriculum Change Working Group (CCWG). The CCWG is infamous for three key acts/products: unsuccessfully mediating between Fallists and the late Dean of Health over mass boycotts of lectures; imposing the discredited (here, here, here, here) maths decolonist CK Raju on the Faculty of Science; and producing a discredited (here, here, here) summary Framework document. The Framework mentions Raju only in passing and misspells the surname of eminent law scholar Loretta Feris, DVC for Transformation under whose brief the CCWG falls. With regard to defamation, Kamanzi followed in Fallist ‘tradition’ and defamed me as “Jim Crow” at the Convocation AGM held on 14 December 2017. When Emeritus Registrar Hugh Amoore called on the new Convocation President (Lorna Houston) to request that Kamanzi to withdraw the defamatory comment and apologise they refused.

So, in summary, these UCT students (and at least one of their supervisors), despite their claimed commitment to the “social upliftment of their fellow people” devote most of (all?) their efforts to defaming UCT and WITS as institutions, undermining their day-to-day functioning and curricula and assassinating the characters of respected members of their Communities. In short, they are hateful hypocrites spewing often profane and defamatory invective in the absence of evidence.

For me, the final ‘straw’ was the refusal by some of UCT’s powerful, centralized administrative leaders to act when a newly ‘promoted’ professor [noted for defaming the VC, UCT’s ad hominem promotion process, his highly rated department, and internationally respected and award-winning colleagues] phoned me at home and issued a thinly-veiled threat –  “I know where you live.” – if I continued to criticize his questionable behaviour. I do not want to suffer the same fate as my friend and UCT colleague, Brian Hahn. The potentates’ reply to my plea was that the professor’s and the others’ defamation was a response to my “provocation”. So much for trying to speak truth in a “robust manner” in a space where opposing ideas and opinions matter and are allowed to be expressed and criticized.

The principled principal and professors react

VC Mamokgethi Phakeng and professors of law (Anton Fagan) and philosophy of ethics (David Benatar) take the principled, high road and defend Mlandu’s right to express his arguably destructive and “morally repugnant” views. This is because UCT is an African University founded on academic freedom and bounded by the rule of law, institutionally and nationally. It has, by design and painstaking hard work, earned respect internationally for its resistance to Apartheid and excellence in teaching and research. Anything that undermines this status should not be sanctioned, and the way ahead must be driven by ‘multi-logue’ discussion, debate and accountability and not power politics and dogmatic ideology.

I join Fagan, Benatar and the vast “silenced majority” of UCT’s community to see the ‘true colours’ of Mlandu et al. and discover how the new leaders of UCT will defend its principles and deal with hateful ideologues. Maybe the independent IRTC will also provide us all with advice concerning what constitutes “decent behaviour” and “acceptable protest” at a 21st-Century UCT.

 

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