Reconciliation and transformation Trumped at UCT
Research into the history of UCT (accessible through timguineacrowe.blogspot.co.za) strongly suggests that, for most of its history, UCT was institutionally colonialist, sexist and racist. Equally arguable, other than in some sectors of the Humanities, UCT ceased to be colonialist sensu stricto after World War II. During his time as Vice Chancellor (1948-1955), T.B. Davie developed an ethos resolutely committed to academic freedom and non-racialism. Sadly, from his death until the end of the 1970s, while growing steadily in academic excellence, UCT stagnated socio-politically under Apartheid, resisting it (at best) only in principle.
For the balance of the millennium, under the visionary and transformational leadership of VCs Stuart Saunders and Mamphela Ramphele, Davie’s ethos became a reality and UCT became a truly “real”, international centre of academic excellence without compromising on equity. From 2000, much of the S&R transformational momentum was lost, but there was no retrogression to the ‘bad old days’. Although, it is definitely not forgotten, the past is not “still present”.
It’s the present and the future that need major attention, a task with which I am passionately involved (see my above mentioned blog site).
Advice from a ‘Dutch Uncle’
In early February 2017, I received advice from a ‘Dutch uncle’ at UCT. Contrary to what you might think, it was not kind words from a senior male, éminence grise, ‘oom’ professor whom I should admire and to whom I might defer. In US colloquial English, a ‘Dutch uncle’ is a powerful person who quietly admonishes, indeed warns, a problematic other. The advice I received was, in fact, from a brilliant, much younger, female academic who asked me to defer from criticizing UCT’s embryonic Internal Reconciliation and Transformation Commission Steering Committee (IRTC SC). Give it a chance to deliver! Since this was my position vis-à-vis the equally scary Donald Trump, I initially acquiesced. But, as with Trump, I now must demur.
The IRTC SC
In terms of what former UCT Students Representative Council president Gwen Ngwenya describes as the illegitimate November 2016 Agreement for “non-violence”, the IRTC is being established by a Steering Committee inter alia to:
- investigate the causes and consequences of Shackville and related ‘protests’ since 2015, including disciplinary procedures, interdicts, clemency and amnesty;
- make recommendations on how the university should deal with pending cases and other such matters in the future; and
- make recommendations on institutional culture, transformation, decolonisation, discrimination, identity, disability and any other matters that the university community has raised or may wish to raise in the future.
I was also reluctant to follow Dutch Tannie’s advice, since the merits of the Agreement and the IRTC SC had also been questioned by UCT Prof. Jeremy Seekings. Seekings even speculated that VC Price and Agreement co-signatory extreme Fallists from the Pan Africanist Students Movement of Azania (PASMA) had (at the time of the Agreement) secretly agreed to a list of acceptable commissioners, apparently giving the extremely radical PASMA an effective veto over who would conduct this review of UCT.
Why am I no longer following ‘Dutch Tannie’s’ advice?
A stacked deck
The “broadly inclusive” IRTC SC, by its statutory and/or de facto membership, is dominated by pro-Fallists. The non-statutory, lawbreaking ShackvilleTRC ‘protesters’ and the structurally racialist, ‘white-decentrist’ Black Academic Caucus (BAC) were allocated membership equivalent to or exceeding UCT’s Council, Senate, Heads of Department and Academics Union. Representatives of UCT’s Executive also appear to side with Fallists. DVC for Transformation (=“decolonization”) Prof. Loretta Feris, was the vice-chairperson of the BAC. Executive Director Russell Ally has described critics of Fallists and the UCT Executive’s never-ending capitulation to them as wanting “to return UCT to the glory days when it was a whites-only university”. Ms Lorna Houston, representing the Alumni (she is now President of UCT’s Convocation), is a pro-Fallist, anti-‘white’, disgruntled former employee of UCT who maintains (without providing evidence) that it retains an apartheid culture characterized by “invisible racism” – “the past is still present”. She asserts that “the UCT system managed to ‘disappear’ and exclude many [unidentified] capable black staff; and instead nurtured mainly capable white staff [also unidentified] by providing support, mentoring and the transmission of social capital to negotiate the system”. University of KwaZulu-Natal Medical Prof. Nombulelo Magula, also ‘representing’ the Alumni on the IRTC SC, is a nominee of the racially based UCT Association of Black Alumni. Her only published UCT-related credential is a B.Sc. degree. According to Ms Dianna Yach, Chair of UCT’s Alumni Advisory Board and member of UCT’s Council, she and Ms Houston were chosen over me to represent the Alumni on the IRTC SC (despite my 40 years of experience with academic decolonization at UCT and by far the largest number of individual nominations) because I was not “nominated by a university structure” and am a “combative personality”.
In the end, the key, inadvertent(?) driver of Fallism at UCT has been VC Price. Unlike his predecessor, Stuart Saunders, and current counterparts Adam Habib (University of the Witwatersrand) and Sizwe Mabizela (Rhodes University), Price has not personally intervened to prevent and/or stop illegal, overt defamation, hate speech, intimidation, violence and destruction. Furthermore, when potentially inflammatory encounters took place, he sat passively and/or selectively ‘negotiated’ with the most extreme Fallists what amounted to short-term ‘ceasefires’. Thus, Price, by openly supporting protest and not taking decisive action when it became illegally intimidatory, violent and destructive, betrayed the “silenced majority” of UCT students, staff, paying parents/grandparents, alumni and donors and abandoned the leadership ethos dreamt of by T.B. Davies and implemented by Saunders and Ramphele.
IRTC SC ‘Progress’
The IRTC SC has met three times (January, February and April) and, in May, held a workshop aimed at establishing terms of reference (ToR) for the IRTC and criteria for the appointment of IRT commissioners when an SC sub-committee failed to achieve this task because of a lack of input from pro-Fallist members.
Key comments/events – quotes are from meeting minutes, mine in italics
Ms Houston did not attend.
“A representative of ShackvilleTRC wanted to know what the authority of the SC is, as its job cannot just be to recommend. He proposed that the SC needs to be more imaginative about the status/role of the SC, as he has been part of many task teams at UCT which made recommendations with no follow-through.”
“The BAC representative wanted the Chair to provide his honest assessment on whether Council will be able to provide the kind of strategic leadership needed to take the institution forward. For example, if the commissioners make recommendations, will/can Council become a stumbling block?”
Is the goal of the IRTC now to emasculate the Council in addition to the Executive, academics and the Senate? It is a fatal step in governance to devolve executive powers to some committee or consensual anything. Any parallel body which usurps statutory powers can only undermine the university and ultimately destroy it.
“The Chair indicated that the laws of the University are made by Council, therefore, the SC serves to advise Council. He also noted that no ad hoc structure can make decisions on behalf of the University.”
Bravo! But, please also defend Senate when Fallists demand destructive ‘decolonization’ of university structures and policies, academic staff and curricula in the absence of providing demonstrably coherent viable alternatives.
“The BAC representative [Khwezi Mkhize?] noted that the work of the commission will take place in an environment where a political transition has not taken place. He further noted that the role of the commission should be to help re-imagine the institution. The BAC representative also made the point that voices from the so-called ‘progressive’ sector(s) should be given more weight in the hearings of the IRTC. Even if they comprised a minority of the University, they should simply over-ride the majority. The BAC representative questioned whether the Steering Committee process needed to be broadly inclusive and legitimate. This member insisted that some things were non-negotiable, and some voices should be disregarded.”
So much for ideological diversity, rational debate, inclusivity, free speech, academic freedom, responsible governance and democracy.
“The Chair countered that all voices should be heard, especially voices with which we disagree, and that we all need to engage with each other.”
Maybe there could have been room on the SC for a “combative” codger like me?
“Nominations [for commissioners] will close on 17 March 2017.”
[It’s now the end of May. Still only provisional criteria and terms of reference, and no nominations.]
Prof. Magula did not attend. Simon Rakei attended as an unlisted, illegitimate ShackvilleTRC representative.
“Deliberations were streamed live to the university community in the interest of transparency.”
With regard to substantive issues related to the IRTC SC terms of reference (ToR) and appointment criteria for commissioners, written suggestions (due by 16 February) had been received only from the Senate Representatives. The HoDs had written to inform the SC that they had not received any objections to the terms of reference contained in the draft call for nominations of commissioners from their constituency.
Rather than proceed to discuss ToR, some constituencies stated they needed more time to consult with their constituencies, making a discussion about the terms of reference/criteria premature.
Members agreed to extend the deadline for written submissions to 31 March and that the consultations would also cover the draft criteria for nominating commissioners. A small sub-committee (Illing, Chetty, Mkhize, Moseli, Boyi and Ncayiyana) was tasked to collate the resulting information.
[The lack of delivery of comments and suggestions on ToR by non-academic constituencies is disturbing.]
Prof. Magula did not attend. Simon Rakei again attended as an unlisted, illegitimate ShackvilleTRC representative. There are still no minutes for this meeting. So, I use the times (hours, minutes, seconds) from the video live stream to report.
Illing attempted to give feedback on progress made by the sub-committee tasked with collating comments/suggestions vis-à-vis ToR and commissioner appointment criteria. Only Senate and Alumni constituencies sent substantive documents by the 31 March deadline. Hence, the sub-committee meeting was delayed. When it finally met, still only a few submissions had been made and only three members (Chetty, Illing and Ncayiyana) actually attended. VC Price was allowed to participate to provide non-interfering input.
23m51s – Houston intervened, criticizing Illing for mispronouncing a member’s surname. Illing was reprimanded by Pityana and apologizes.
25m15s – Seekings queried the legitimacy of Price’s participation and poor attendance of meeting. Price explained his constructive motives.
27m35s – Illing referred to the Alumni suggestion that the IRTC should actively seek input and that “tolerance” should be a key characteristic in proceedings.
31m30 – A student member expressed concern about not enough time to gather information.
33m10s – Mkhize stated that the Illing report is not representative and is biased “from above”.
33m40s – Pityana challenged, saying that initial agreement and terms came from students and management.
34m50s – hard to hear him – Rakei stated that the timescale was too fast – “very, very hard” for students to make input”; “strong sentiment that the students are being left out”. Asked for more time.
40m50s – Houston brought up need for clarity on boundaries of legitimate protest.
42m30s – Andrews replied that there have already been constitutional rulings stating that “certain kinds of conduct cannot be countenanced”.
43m20s – Mkhize stated comments have to be interpreted in the light of “where they come from” – in this case Senate. He mispronounced Illing’s first name as “Nicolai” and not “Nicola”. No offence taken. No reprimand from Pityana.
44m05s – Illing states that the sub-committee used a memorandum forwarded to it by secretariat (Judy Favish) to guide its actions. Some elements of the Alumni document covered topics outside this scope.
45m50s – Mkhize persisted on his concern about undue “interventions from Senate” and questioned the need to discuss setting boundaries for legitimate protest, describing it as a “hotly contestable issue” that should be “expunged”.
49m30s – Seekings disagreed, stating that Senate was guided by VC Price vis-à-vis legitimate protest. He called on Mkhize to justify how legitimate protest can be “fudged” to allow illegal acts. He was interrupted and criticized by Mkhize for mispronouncing his surname.
52m00s – A third member joined in, complaining loudly, saying that Pityana persisted in allowing this sign of disrespect. Pityana reprimanded him saying: “You have no business to shout. We are all adults here.”
52m45s – Seekings apologized to meeting. Mkhize demanded a personal apology. Seekings apologized personally.
58m25s – Pityana raised the issue of illegitimate protest being widespread across SA. “It is a conversation that we will not escape” and needs to be dealt with before the IRTC commences. Mkhize replied, saying that UCT is co-opting the protest process putting a “liberal spin” on it and that to address the legitimacy issue in SC “challenges its legitimacy”.
1h11m00s – An academic member appealed for the UCT Community to come to terms relating to illegitimate protest. “We staff were recipients of the backlash.” “We were not afforded protection.” “We need to be guaranteed our safety.” “We brought our concerns to management but little was done.” “Frankly, management did nothing to protect our safety.”
1h16m30s – Rakei argued for protests to be seen “in context” and asserted that the calls for boundaries of protest are based on “hidden agendas”.
1h42m00s – Favish questioned the sub-committee’s failure to incorporate “many rich ideas” from the Alumni document and suggested that it should be discussed in full session.
1h47m40s – Price objected to the discussion of protest as emanating from “bad faith”. He focused specifically on “grey areas” of protest (e.g. interruption of exams) as needing attention, as well as generally accepted guidelines vis-à-vis calling in security to ensure personal safety and critical academic/administrative functioning.
1h50m00s – A student member expressed concern about apathy vis-à-vis the IRTC process in general. There must be an establishment of “connection” and “buy in “. But, “this will take more time”.
1h56m45s – Houston stated: ”We need to get through the disagreement to reach agreement. This requires long engagement.”
2h00m00s – Pityana: “We do not trust one another that’s the nub of the matter.”
2h05m05s – A student referred to the Alumni document as a joint BAC piece.
2h05m42s – Confirming Seeking’s speculation, a student corroborated the existence of a “list of commissioners that was agreed upon” by Fallists and management way back in November 2016. It “should be published” and they should be given submissions to IRTC SC “to consider”. “Other people” can suggest possible additional commissioners down the line.
2h09m20s – Pitanya queried this as “a subjective decision” identifying individuals in the absence of criteria.
2h13m00s – A BAC(?) member suggested that the sub-committee “tampered” with the IRTC process and that consensus is “never” going to be reached because Senate is “holding us at ransom”. “Senate is only one constituency.” Only the “original terms [set out in the Agreement] of reference are the basis.”
2h17m19s – Pityana admitted that three potential commissioners had been “identified”. But, requested: “please don’t mention names”.
So much for an open selection process.
2h23m10s – Houston called for a revisit of the IRTC SC ToR and commissioner criteria under the chair of an independent facilitator, since the sub-committee document is “extremely skewed” and “people [sub-committee members?] didn’t appreciate even the value” of the Alumni submission. It was agreed to have an extended workshop chaired by an independent facilitator.
2h25m00s – A student member complained about overly long meetings on school nights adversely affecting her studies and that such a workshop be held during the weekend.
2h26ms50 – Rakei called for the creation of an additional chair for the IRTC SC.
2h33m55s – Houston supported this call stressing the need for a co-chair with experience in dealing with “strongly divided groups”. Pityana agreed as long as it promotes the “confidence of ALL the stakeholders”.
This is a blatant attempt by Fallists to undermine the straight-talking Pityana’s credibility as a unifying force. Yet he still writes “South Africa and the rest of the world benefit from how the University of Cape Town is dealing with transformation issues following the Fallist protests”.