Racial Cowardice at UCT (Part 2)

Racial cowardice and proposed raced-based ‘self-incrimination’ at the University of Cape Town (UCT): “What’s going on?” Part 2: Some recent good and other potentially very scary news.

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Some of the ‘players’: Ibram X. Kendi, EFF leader Julius Malema, Lwazi Lushaba (top) - Robin DiAngelo and Mila Zibi (below)

Part 1 Here

Good news

The current ‘good’ news at UCT is that She is led by a Chancellor, VC and Chair of Council who are self-made women who have overcome enormous obstacles and have outstanding and complementary track records in education, administration and business principles. Equally important, they have nurtured the development of a widely accepted, Council-endorsed, non-racial Vision 2030 for UCT’s academic project. Vision 2030 is founded on excellence, transformation and sustainability, and the letters RACE appear only three times in the Vision’s summary document:

  1. embRACE the world;
  2. embRACE different environments and experiences; and
  3. embRACE embrace local knowledge and expertise.

Scary ‘hot-off-the-press’ bad news

Nearly three decades after the demise of Apartheid racist rule in South Africa, powerful factions within UCT’s Council, Senate, Students’ Representative Council (SRC), senior Executive and administrative bureaucracy still embrace racial thinking and even appear to be attempting to enforce ‘novel’ race thinking and implement potentially harmful race-based policies.

Council and SRC

UCT’s Council governs the university and determines Her mission, objectives, goals and strategies and evaluates policies necessary for the progress of the institution. Three of its current members (Kumkani Goqoza, Sihle Lonzi and Lwazi Lushaba) were appointed by the SRC.

The SRC has been dominated by members of the Economic Freedom Front Students’ Command (EFF-SC) for the last five years. The voter turnout underpinning these elections barely exceeded the 25% minimum of the eligible student population.

The EFF-SC is part-and-parcel of the Economic Freedom Front, a radical, militant, revolutionary, leftist, anti-capitalist, xenophobic(?) political party ruled by Julius Malema. It draws inspiration from broad Marxist-Leninist and Fanonian schools of thought. Its authoritarian leadership demands fealty from its members and supporters, is intolerant of criticism, and has employed violence to achieve its aims.

Unlike the situation for all other members of Council, its home page provides no biographical information for its current SRC members. Goqoza and Lonzi appear to be (or were) UCT students and the former is current SRC Treasurer General. Lonzi is a member of the EFF-SC and a supporter of EFF policies. He ends one of his provocative opinion pieces with a Cultural Revolution-related quote from Chairman Mao.

On the other hand, Dr Lwazi Lushaba is a UCT lecturer, has never been a student at UCT and is infamous for arguably racist comments made during some of his lectures:

“I tell them [first year Political Science students], there is no possibility of friendship between you as a Black person and you as a White person.” In his lecture on the “Black Schema”, he refers to alienation that causes black people to disconnect from their own bodies that are not ‘good enough’ or ‘white enough’. They live in an ‘existential vacuum’ is formed where they experience profound anxiety and despair.” When commenting on the Holocaust, he stated that “Hitler committed no crime. All Hitler did was to do to white people what white people had normally reserved for black people.”

On a larger stage, Lushaba set the Faculty of Humanities into turmoil when he stomped on ballot boxes and verbally and physically attacked fellow academics to convey his objection to a non-South-African Black woman being elected Dean. For this, he was reprimanded by the UCT Executive for “unacceptable, inappropriate and disrespectful conduct”. Even UCT’s Black Academic Caucus criticized him for attempting to divide black South Africans from Africans of other countries on the continent.

Indeed, Lushaba had also been suspended by Wits back in 2015 for “participating in activities which were not conducive to free and fair elections and were intolerant to a democratic society”.

Why/How was this highly ideologically controversial person with such a disturbing history recruited to UCT’s academic staff in 2016 (during the VC-ship of Dr Max Price)? How can this 50+ year-old non-student qualify as a student representative on to its Council?

Perhaps someone within UCT’s 13-person “Office for Inclusivity and Change” (OIC) – set up by VC Price within the offices of the DVC for Transformation in 2016 to act as an “active home and promoter of social justice on campus” – should investigate the matter?

One possible interviewee is current Student Representative Council (SRC) president, Mila Zibi. He is a member of the EFF and EFF-SC and maintains that the SRC is a “political structure”. One of his key goals is to “disrupt the status quo and make the racist system tremble at its feet”.

In February 2022, he and another SRC/EFF-SC member, Sandile Manoane, were relieved of their SRC duties pending the investigation by the OIC of alleged rape and sexual assault perpetrated in October 2021. Sadly, there is still no feedback from UCT vis-à-vis this investigation despite its statement that it is “receiving urgent attention at the highest level”.

Senate

UCT’s Senate is the apex structure responsible for the quality of the totality of UCT’s academic project. Recently, it has been asked to consider a proposed Policy and set of Procedures on Anti-Racism, Racial Discrimination and Racial Harassment developed since 2019 and recommended by UCT’s Human Resources Committee (UHRC).

As far back as 2010, racial thinking at post-Apartheid UCT was strongly challenged by one of its premier scholars, anti-Apartheid activist Neville Alexander, for whom the university’s old and now new School of Education buildings were/are named. Alexander was a champion of the radical tradition of non-racialism, which was implacably opposed to both the inequalities that characterize South Africa and the mobilization of “race” to tackle these. As Alexander and others have argued, the mobilization of “race” and “saying no to non-racialism” is likely to undermine the redress of inequalities. Contemporary anti-racists not only essentialize “race”, but also overlook other (especially class and gender) inequalities that characterize our societies, undermining efforts to advance social justice.

More specifically, in 2010, in a commentary published by Cape Times on June 15, Alexander accused VC Max Price of “racial cowardice” for arguing that “race” was still an acceptable criterion of university admission in post-apartheid South Africa. He counter-argued that Price’s view “represents an incredible retrogression”.

Alexander, a UCT graduate during the Apartheid Era, reiterated the fact that, during apartheid, UCT’s “leadership … spoke out repeatedly against the racist admission policies of the apartheid regime” defending “the right of the university to decide who shall teach, who shall be taught, what shall be taught and how it shall be taught”, and that UCT implemented “the ultimate in university resistance to apartheid as far as the liberal establishment was concerned”.

However, Price’s UCT “d[id] not have the guts to stand up to the new purveyors of racial classification, ie, the post-apartheid government and its functionaries”, and “Price’s argument is the negation of what even TB Davie stood for”. “And this is only the tip of the iceberg. At a much more profound level, ie, without any reference to admissions criteria, this discussion is about the nature of a non-racial society and about the role of the intelligentsia in helping to shape such a society.” “By making concessions to race thinking, for example, by putting it in little squares with racial labels to be checked on application forms for the alleged purpose of tracking the tempo of ‘transformation’, we are establishing or consolidating the template of a genocidal grid, one that is all too real in the consciousness of those who are so labelled and categorised. We do not have to do this ever and we should not do so now. It is the merest intellectual laziness to assert otherwise.”

Finally, he presciently revealed today’s situation: “Few of the academics there [at UCT] agree with the [race-based] reasoning proffered by the VC even if they are not prepared to go public on this.”

The current UHRC-proposed Policy and set of Procedures on Anti-Racism, Racial Discrimination and Racial Harassment for UCT blatantly disregard Neville Alexander’s insights and warnings. Senate member, Sociology Prof. Jeremy Seekings raised strong objections to the proposal (see here) since it repeatedly invokes the term ‘anti-racism’ (AR). He explained that, whereas the term may have meant something different in a South African context as part of the anti-Apartheid movement, in the USA it had now come to have a meaning that was very specific to the context of racial prejudice and injustice.

USA-AR is commonly understood as characterized by Ibram X. Kendi in his widely read How to Be an Antiracist.

First and foremost, AR requires a rejection of non-racialism sensu Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Alexander, and is predicated on acceptance of human races as ontologically ‘real’ entities.

Second, White people are portrayed as unaware of their own unconscious biases, don’t fully understand the institutional and structural issues that uphold White supremacy and contribute to racist behaviours, attitudes, and policies.

Third, more specifically, Whites unconsciously hold negative attitudes about entire groups of people based on their race, ethnicity, or cultural heritage.

Fourth, a racist is one who ”supports a racist policy through actions, inaction or simply appearing to express a racist idea”.

Fifth, becoming a ‘real’ anti-racist requires the ability and willingness of Whites to examine their own biases, engage in critical thinking and, ultimately, ‘cure’ themselves of their AR.

Seekings argued further that this non-African version of AR is diametrically opposed to the goals of non-racialism as enshrined in the South African Constitution and to which UCT has held since the beginnings of Apartheid 75 years ago. US-AR is even at odds with the intentions and goals of the Policy and Procedures themselves in that it is an ideology that reifies racial essentialism, promotes racial stereotypes, and makes assumptions about individuals based on their ‘racial’ classification’.

In short, if Senate supports the proposals as presented, it may, through the back door by way of a seemingly innocuous ‘Policy’, inadvertently support a substantial ideological shift in the way that the University is approaching issues of racial and social injustice and undermine the implementation of Vision 2030.

Executive branch

Since those determined to destructively decolonize UCT since 2015 have failed time and again to:

  1. expose racists;
  2. uncover substantive evidence of micro-aggression and invisible violence;
  3. debunk science;
  4. force the Dean of Health Sciences to implement their demands; and
  5. get Senate to replace non-racialism with anti-racism

in order to get the job done, they now seem to be benefitting from UCT’s Executive via the DVC for Transformation and the 13-person “Office for Inclusivity and Change” (OIC).

To that end, the OIC invited Robin DiAngelo, the American guru of “antiracist training”, to UCT, where she promoted her racialized stereotypes and the evidence-free view that Whites are inherently racist and continue to benefit globally from systemic White domination and privilege.

DiAngelo argues that Dr King’s call for people to be judged by the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin was a lifeline for Whites because it allowed them to pretend that racism would end if they acted in colour-blind ways. In this view, King’s non-racialism supposedly “denied the reality” of systemic racism. True racial justice can be achieved only when Whites undergo a lifelong journey to confront their racism and learn to avoid the unintended slights and microaggressions they commit every day against Blacks.

There was no encouragement for, let alone structured provision of, verbal or in-print debate between DiAngelo and in-house supporters of her version of anti-racism and those who advocate Alexander’s non-racialism.

Following on from this training, the OIC has facilitated DiAngelo-style “affinity groups” for “white” people as part of a broader effort to “decentre whiteness” (while at the same time “centering blackness” in other projects) at the University. This contravenes UCT’s long-held policy on racism that defines racism as “the advocacy or expression in any manner of the belief or attitude that any person, by virtue of his or her skin colour or ethnicity is to be treated as inferior or superior to others”. This policy makes it clear that racist acts can be perpetrated by any person, not only by Whites per the OIC definition.

According to Prof. Seekings, at a recent online university “engagement” on OIC’s strategy, one of its architects confirmed that racism was a word that applied only to Whites because of their position in a power structure shaped by colonialism and apartheid. Whites need to find a “new language” to describe any apparently racial discrimination or violence perpetrated against them. The speaker was subsequently asked what such language might be and whether incitement to commit genocidal murder of Whites people by constructing them as inherently evil would still not qualify as racism. She said:

“I invite you to consider this for yourself. First unpack what racism is, why it is, and how it plays out. Then perhaps you will find the answer you’re looking for. What I cannot do is make white people feel comfortable for the multi-layered degree of violence that is whiteness by applying the term racism to black people’s enactments of violence. The question and requirement for continued explanation is an act of violence. The pretense that you do not know what racism is and means and its manifestation is deeply problematic.”

In short, rational discussion about the definition of racism adopted in a strategic initiative within the university appears to be impossible. Not only is ‘Whitenesss’ constructed as embodying “multi-layered violence”, but even asking questions about it is an “act of violence”. Anti-racism is thus arguably a de-facto new religion, complete with demonization, liturgy, rituals, high priests etc., and it’s up to Whites to seek ‘conversion’ and ‘redemption’.

How does this scary scenario fit in with Vision 2030?

Perhaps the newly appointed DVC for Transformation, Prof. Elelwani Ramugondo, will re-inforce the current ‘troika’ of the Chancellor, Council Chair and VC, transforming it into a pro-Vision 2030 ‘quartet’.

Ramugondo is an alumna of UCT, with qualifications at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and has served Her well for more than 20 years as an educator, researcher, residence warden and administrator in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

Vis-à-vis Vision 2030, of some concern about Ramugondo’s history at UCT is that, in 2015 after the tragic, she was appointed by VC Price to serve as his Special Advisor on Transformation and also served on his Strategic Executive Task Team (SETT) during the tumultuous Fallism period. She was appointed to help fill the gap created by the sudden departure of non-racialist Transformation DVC Crain Soudien (See here, here). Like, his close colleague Neville Alaexander, he endured apartheid as a student at UCT.

Ramugondo influenced decision-making and helped to develop faculty-based and institution-wide initiatives, especially in her capacity as co-chair of the Curriculum Change Working Group (CCWG). It was in this latter capacity that she and the previous Transformation DVC Prof. Loretta Feris (past vice-chair of the BAC) invited ‘decolonialist’ Dr Chandra Raju who unsuccessfully attempted to debunk mathematics education at UCT.

Perhaps most disturbingly, Ramugondo is also a founding member of the decidedly race-based Black Academic Caucus (BAC) and was the long-serving Chairperson of its all-powerful Executive Committee. Responding to news of her appointment, current BAC secretary Dr Sabelo Hadebe said: “The BAC wishes the new DVC of Transformation and Student Affairs and Social responsiveness all the best in her new endeavour and look forward to further engagements on how we drive transformation agenda in UCT.”

In 2018, to defend and drive the transformation agenda at UCT, Ramugondo and the BAC took UCT to court for allegedly flouting its own rules by hiring a “less qualified” white academic as its deputy vice-chancellor for teaching and learning instead of her. Ramugondo told the news media that she was overlooked for the post because of institutional racism at UCT. Moreover, she claimed that VC Price tried to mislead the public on this injustice in radio interviews. She stated:

“I know many causalities to UCT’s institutional racism.” “Institutional racism is a blind spot. Racists within an organisation that is experienced as racist by those who are marginalised, are unable to recognise the problem themselves.”

I was “told directly by some in high positions at UCT that I should worry about my future in academia, and the role tackling UCT head-on would play in that”.

“I have been warned about being labelled a troublemaker and the consequences that come with that for future opportunities.”

In response, UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said the university was unaware that Ramugondo was threatened, which was a “worrying and serious claim”, and that she should lay a complaint with university structures or police.

No such complaints weres laid and, in February 2020, the Western Cape High Court ruled against Ramugondo and the BAC.

This worrying history might make one wonder about the new DVC’s commitment to Vision 2030.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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