Part 1: A ‘prequel’ setting the (ob?)scene
There is only one race. The human race. Robert Sobukwe – anti- Apartheid activist regarded by its kingpins as more dangerous than Nelson Mandela
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Martin Luther King Jr
The terribly simple fact is that “race” is not real; it is racial prejudice and race thinking that are real. Neville Alexander
Drawing on the best thinking in biology and science on one hand and in sociology on the other, the idea of ‘race’ was an invention, an invention to be used to keep people who did not look white in a state of permanent subjection. Crain Soudien
The good ‘old’ news at UCT was that, while enduring Apartheid, She stood for freedom of thought, speech and expression; against racial, political and religion-based discrimination; and for unfettered, rigorous, civil debate. Her VC during 1948-1955 (TB Davie – 1895-1955) made Her core values crystal clear. UCT demanded the right to decide “who shall be taught, who shall teach, what shall be taught and how it should be taught, without regard to any criterion except academic merit”.
But there was more.
To complement these globally applicable values for an “open university”, Davie added others especially relevant to Apartheid South Africa:
- reflect the multi-racial picture of the society it serves;
- give a lead to the cultural and spiritual development of the different race groups as part of the developments of the community as a whole;
- aid the state by providing training for and maintaining standards in the learned professions and public services; and
- serve the community in the true sense of the university, i.e. as a centre for the preservation, the advance, and the dissemination of learning for its own sake and without regard to its usefulness, to all who are academically qualified for admission, irrespective of race, colour, or creed.
Nevertheless, at that time, outmoded concepts of human races still persisted and were employed globally, even by eminent pre-Afrocentrist Cheikh Anta Diop (1923–1986). In his seminal book The African origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality written during the late 1940s and early 1950s. he multiply used the terms “negro”, “black”, “white” and “race” while arguing his major thesis: ”Ancient Egypt was a Negro civilization”.
From 1950 until the mid-1990s, UCT openly defied – generally peacefully – the Apartheid Regime in general and notions of ‘white supremacy’ in particular. This engendered the wrath of Nationalist Party prime ministers and their ‘security’ forces and earned Her the epithet “little Moscow on the hill”.
During 1958-1967 under the administration of VC J.P. Duminy (1897–1980), there was one noteworthy exception vis-à-vis peaceful resistance. UCT graduate and lecturer Adrian Leftwich (1940-2013) became a core member of the African Resistance Movement (ARM), a violent, ideologically heterogenous, revolutionary organization including both ‘Blacks’ and ‘Whites’ that predated the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).
Leftwich and fellow ARMists employed bombings and other forms of sabotage to enact revolutionary change. Sadly, in 1964, virtually immediately after being arrested by Apartheid security forces, he identified, incriminated and testified against many fellow ARM members. These included some of his closest friends and colleagues. For these acts of betrayal, he was allowed to seek exile in England and evade incarceration.
Leftwich and the ARM’s botched attempt at violent revolution undermined institutional support for anti-Apartheid activism at UCT for more than a decade.
In marked contrast to what actually happened, the official history of UCT depicts Leftwich holding the “Torch of Freedom” and describes him as a “left-leaning”, “disillusioned”, “liberal-turned-radical”
In sharp contrast to Leftwich, unambiguously peaceful UCT-connected ‘citizens’, e.g. Dr Richard Turner (1941-1978 – philosopher and anti-communist/apartheid pro-black unionist) and Dr Neil Aggett (1953-1982 – medical doctor to poor and oppressed trade unionists), were not as lucky as Leftwich. They were murdered by members of the South African ‘security’ forces.
Despite all of this Apartheid-derived sadness, at the time of Duminy’s appointment, UCT was politically diverse. She even tolerated left-wing socialists, communists and the Trotskyist Non-European Unity Movement (NEUM) that implacably opposed any collaboration with the ‘white hegemony’, and discussion and debate were generally civil and unfettered.
For this systemic/institutional ‘persona’, the Apartheid Regime viewed ‘old’ UCT’s liberalism and its citizens as “the sprout of Satan” and “vipers’ blood” and acted accordingly. In response, in parallel with current UCT’s Fallism, students became increasingly assertive, even aggressive, in the struggle for university autonomy and non-racialism.
Late in Duminy’s tenure, UCT’s Department of Social Anthropology attempted to appoint intellectual pathfinder Archie Mafeje to serve alongside his mentor Monica Wilson. The Mafeje Affair was ‘inherited’ by new VC Sir Richard Luyt, (1915 –1994). I have discussed this controversial matter in detail elsewhere.
During his tenure as VC (1968-1980), Luyt ordered the erection of “private property” signs in an attempt to keep Apartheid forces off campus. From day one, he was a “breath of fresh air” who rapidly and decisively ended controversial race-linked policies and practices that lingered on from the Duminy Era, especially relating to petty apartheid and social segregation. But, in effect, this highly decorated combat veteran of WWII implemented a ‘holding action’, sparring with the Regime rather than supporting useless, Leftwich-like, revolution.
During the 1980s, under VC Stuart Saunders, UCT led the country in circumventing laws preventing the admission of PoC students. During the 1990s, She became aggressively anti-Apartheid in practice, recruiting PoC students and staff (including a ‘Black’ woman VC Mamphela Ramphele) and massively decolonized and desegregated facilities, faculties and departments. Indeed, under the three years of Ramphele’s leadership (1996-1999), UCT’s residual colonial culture became history and she markedly increased UCT’s ‘Black’ staff and student population.
During 2000-2008, UCT’s institutional transformation was shepherded further by eminent novelist and highly experienced university administrator, VC Njabulo Ndebele. Unlike Ramphele, he was perceived as the universal ‘pacifier’, attempting to embrace the positive elements of the past while promoting demographic and academic ‘inclusivity’. Ndebele’s major, but historically unappreciated, administrative achievement was commissioning a survey of academic departments at the University of Cape Town. The survey, conducted in 2007, was headed by Emeritus Prof. VC ‘Cliff’ Moran (a highly respected former UCT Dean of Science) in collaboration with Prof. Cheryl de la Rey (DVC for Research) and Assoc. Prof. Andy Duncan, one of UCT’s most savvy senior academics. The key findings of the Moran Report are:
- The University can contribute fully to the social and economic development of South Africa only if it is internationally competitive.
- This requires that the institution promotes academic excellence and the attainment of the institutional goal of becoming a world-class African University.
- The above objectives can be realized only if the academic departments – not a highly centralized managerial administration – regain status as the cornerstones of the institution, bringing them and HoDs back into the mainstream of the University’s focus and activities.
In short, the inordinate power that had become concentrated in the managerial, fiscally-focused, commodified, highly centralized administration needed to be returned to deans, HoDs, educators, researchers and students – the people who are responsible for UCT’s “core business”.
Neither VC Ndebele nor his successor, Dr Max Price, acted decisively on the findings of the ‘Moran Report’.
The bad ’old’ news
During the lame-duck phase of VC Max Price’s regime – 2015-2018 – politically and racially motivated minorities within a disgruntled student body and academic staff at UCT employed often illegal acts and offered evidence-free narratives to portray Africa’s top-ranked centre of tertiary education as still infused with systemic racism. They alleged that this institutional/systemic racism was a legacy of nearly two centuries of colonialism and neo-colonialism that still needed to be obliterated.
Assault with ‘subtle’ weapons
During these four years, Price initially tried to mollify, then kowtowed/capitulated to, then ultimately sided with, a few radical, law-breaking, destructive Fallists and the secretive, oligarchical [ruled by five anonymous members of an “Executive Committee”] Black Academic Caucus (BAC).
At first, these Price-tolerated, destructive, anti-UCT ‘decolonialists’ attacked Her by accusing highly respected academics (e.g. Transformation DVC Prof. Crain Soudien) of outright racism. When that didn’t succeed, they accused them of “micro-aggression”. When that didn’t succeed, they accused them of perpetrating a smorgasbord of recurring “invisible violence” and racism that originated during the 19th century. They alleged that this violence in toto triggered and justified the students’:
- verbal intimidation of, and physical assaults on, their unsympathetic colleagues and academic staff;
- barricading UCT’s access and egress points; and
- defacing and destroying valuable artworks and memorials and fire-bombing the VC’s office.
When these ad hominem attacks and law-breaking intimidation, violence and destruction and still didn’t succeed, on advice from UCT’s Curriculum Change Working Group [created by Price and co-chaired by BAC founder Professor Elelwani Ramugondo], UCT invited an outside expert to pass judgement on UCT. Controversial Dr Chandra Raju, a ‘decolonialist’ computer scientist, mathematician and educator, called for decolonizing science in general at UCT and mathematics in particular. To get some sense of the harmful effects of Raju’s consult, see here, here, here, here, here.
In brief, quotes from UCT Maths colleagues Henri Laurie, George Ellis and Jeff Murugan summarize the ‘value’ of Raju’s visit:
“His teaching claims are probably the easiest to demolish, in that not only is his method demonstrably ineffective and his experiments unscientific, but clearly they are ludicrously narrow, so limited that even if they were successful they would not give access to the bulk of modern applications of mathematics.”
“His talk has nothing positive to contribute to the discussion, not just because he advocates replacing the internationally agreed approach to mathematics and physics by his own idiosyncratic views, but particularly because he explicitly advocates ignoring the views of international experts on scientific topics in his decolonial approach to science and maths. If UCT were to follow that route, we’d better close down the science and engineering faculties. The degrees we will produce will be worthless.”
“Raju’s ideas are, at best, fringe, either reflecting a very shallow understanding of the nature of science or, when they are correct, trivia. The changes that he advocates in his decolonising mathematics project amount to a neo-Bantu Education that, if implemented in South Africa, would see students unable to compete in the global marketplace of ideas.”
In short, a handful of UCT non-scientist, critical (race?) theorists within the CCWG invited a ‘conspiracy theorist’ to talk about decolonizing mathematics as taught by Her world-renowned Maths Department. Fallist students, the BAC and Transformation DVC Loretta Feris keen for a ‘quick fix’ ‘lapped up’ Raju’s doggerel.
The unkindest cut of all occurred on 27 July 2018. After two years of abuse by Fallist students and neglect by a seemingly uncaring UCT Executive, Bongani Mayosi – Dean/Prof. of UCT’s Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) – was driven to suicide. He was “one of the best examples of black excellence but also as a prominent symbol of transformation at UCT”. “His cutting-edge research, leadership role in various health professional forums in the country and the continent as well as across the world” singled him out as a quintessential 21st Century academic.
Mayosi’s sister, Ncumisa, made the family’s position crystal clear:
“He was hardly two weeks in his new position and the protests broke out”. “The vitriolic nature of the students and their do or die attitude vandalised his soul and unraveled him. Their personal insults and abuse cut him to the core, were offensive to his values and were the opposite of everything he was about.”
Mayosi’s widow, Nonhlanhla Khumalo – also a professor in the FHS – further described the role in his death played by Fallist students:
“During the protests, students sent a list of demands and messages on [his] private cellphone at all hours. [He] cared so deeply for the people who now treated [him] as the enemy.”
UCT VC Mamokgethi Phakeng confirmed that Mayosi was called “coconut” and “sellout”, even though his intentions were really for the students’ best welfare. For this statement she was vilified by the Fallists and their BAC supporters (masters/puppets?).
In short, this testimony suggests that Mayosi was ‘bullied’ to death.
If attacking Mathematics weren’t enough, Price experienced a revelation derived through his interactions with “many students”.
He announced that: “The real, and much deeper, problem is how a multiplicity of institutional practices, which are not motivated by malice or prejudice, are felt by black people at UCT.” “These actions seem to indicate an indifference [by powerful ‘Whites’?] to the values and beliefs that black communities hold dear.” In two words, the problem is institutional racism” (IR) – coined by. American activist Stokely Carmichael.
Carmichael is also famous for some less-than-honorable quotes:
“I have never admired a white man, but the greatest of them, to my mind, was Hitler.”
“The position of women in the movement is prone.”
Price ‘confirmed’ “that UCT has developed [institutional racism] over two centuries” and characterized it “as more subtle than individual racism and much more obvious to those on the receiving end than it is to those responsible for perpetuating it.”
Unfortunately, evidence-based examples of this ’subtle’, let alone real, racism are still to be discovered, let alone analyzed and eradicated. Despite this absence of evidence, the Price-Fallist-BAC-created Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission endorsed the Price-Fallist-BAC view that UCT always was and continues to be ‘violently’ and systemically racist and recommended amnesty for admitted law-breaking Fallist students. This endorsement was reinforced in a 2019 article published in Nature, “the world’s most cited scientific journal”, that pronounced that UCT always was – and remains – systemically and institutionally “entrenched with racism“ founded in a “divisive legacy of colonialism” that needs to be “erased”.
This ‘history’ is outlined in much greater detail in some of my previous pieces in Rational Standard.
For some recent good and very scary bad news, read the forthcoming Part 2.