The Dire Sequel to Iqbal Survé’s UCT Speech

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Sara Gon has posted five articles on Politicsweb analyzing the impact of the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall protests on university life in this country – see here and here and here and here and here.

I followed these events from a journalist’s perspective with specific reference to the reporting in the Cape Times by reporter Carlo Petersen (who has apparently joined the exodus from the Cape Times and the Cape Argus in the past year)   – see here and here and here and here  and here and here.

My concerns were echoed by Jonathan Jansen in his book ‘As by Fire´ and by UCT student, Ricky Stoch in a Daily Maverick article and in her honours thesis, Framing Transformation: An Exploration into the Cape Times Coverage of the University of Cape Town During the Formation of Rhodes Must Fall.

In my subjective opinion, a stentorian call to arms made by Iqbal Survé during a meeting of the UCT Association of Black Alumni (UCTABA), hosted in the Kramer Building on Tuesday 7 April 2015, gave significant impetus to the subsequent Fallist vandalism which did immense reputational damage to the country, resulted in infrastructure damage which is costing more than R800 million to repair and led, ineluctably and inexorably, to the death by his own hand of UCT academic Bongani Mayosi.

Survé’s speech came a month and two days after Chumani Maxwele, with a Cape Times photographer standing by, poured excreta onto the statue of Cecil John Rhodes at UCT. Two months after Survé’s speech in which he sided with the Fallists and threatened those who opposed them, the words ‘Fuck Rhodes’ were spray-painted across the War Cenotaph at UCT. It commemorates the university’s students who paid the ultimate sacrifice in two World Wars. The memorial was vandalised for a second time a few weeks later.

To enhance and cement historical recollection of this period of campus anarchy, I have transcribed, as best I could, this speech by Iqbal Survé which can be found on YouTube.

A disturbing characteristic of the Iqbal Survé era at Independent Media has been the open display off enmity towards white South Africans.

This was most evident in an editorial in the Cape Times by Aneez Salie on 3 September 2018:

‘No longer do we serve primarily the descendants of the English colonists.

‘We are humbled and deeply grateful that you the readers warmed to this approach with loyal support, rejecting calls for a boycott by those colonial, unrepentant racists who once prostituted the Cape Times for their narrow political ends.’

That statement – about readers warming to this anti-white approach – is, like so much else in the Cape Times since Salie became the editor, devoid of truth. The newspaper’s campaign of lies against Chad de Matos provides a telling case study.

The audited circulation figures show that since Salie, as indicated above, venomously turned the newspaper against its traditional core audience – residents in Cape Town’s leafy suburbs – it is now, for the first time in its modern history, selling less than 30 000 copies a day.

I would argue that the same anti-white animus is manifest in the UCT speech by Survé as transcribed below. He starts off with a derogatory generalization about whites and then goes on to call for a purge of white staff at UCT.

  • At 50 minutes and 11 seconds, he says that UCT “… does not respect me as a black man.”
  • At 52:37 he says: “Frankly speaking it is a racist institution.”
  • At 56:40 he says: “If you want real change, I suggest you change the leadership of this institution, change it in its entirety.”

True to his word there has been a purge of white staff at Independent Media which started as soon as he took control of the biggest group of English newspapers in the country with a R1 billion PIC loan which seems unlikely to be recovered in full. This included an instruction to his lawyers to write a threatening letter to respected journalists like Chris Whitfield and Melanie Gosling – something without precedent in South African media history. The tactic worked because, like so many others, they subsequently left his employ.

At 58 minutes and 32 seconds on the YouTube clip he says: “My entire life I’ve lived a principled position, I’m a non-racialist in every aspect of my life I’ve been a non-racialist.”

He seems oblivious to the irony – and the hypocrisy.

Two statements in his speech are questionable.

The first is when he says that, since he bought the newspaper company, the readership of the Cape Times had gone up by 35 000 and at the Cape Argus it had gone up by 65 000. In a dying industry and when most people get their news from their cellphones, that would be remarkable. It means that every copy of these newspapers that are printed is read by at least two people and it raises a question. If that is true, why do the company’s own figures show that it has run at a multi-million rand loss for the past few years and why has Survé defaulted on repaying his loan to the Public Investment Corporation to the detriment of several hundred thousand mainly black, civil servants?

We are indebted to Dougie Oakes, the recently-retired political editor of the Cape Times for his disturbing insights into the managerial chaos at Independent Media, the overweening ego and vanity of its owner, the pervasively corrupt journalism of the Cape Times and the way staff are abused and exploited – see here and here.

The second false statement is at 53 minutes and 46 seconds of the YouTube clip:No elite in the world has ever removed itself from power, it has never existed.’

It is a matter of historical record that in the early 1990s the F W de Klerk government surrendered political power to the African National Congress while still retaining control of the police force and the military and that, furthermore, it voluntarily dismantled its weapons of mass destruction.

The sections of the YouTube clip where Survé speaks are indicated in the transcript below.

What is jarring, but perhaps not surprising coming from a man who is not known for his comity, his couth and his gravitas, is the ill-mannered way in which he ignores the repeated entreaties by the chairperson to stick to the time limit allotted to the speakers.

48minutes 32 seconds to one hour and ten seconds

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, fellow panellists and the brave young woman,(unintelligible) Johannes, who transformed very quickly, changed.

Thank you very much for inviting me. For an institution of higher learning I think you’d get the basic things right because from what I’ve understood from these debates: if you’re white it equates to being superior – that’s what some people certainly believe. But the very most basic thing from someone who’s got three degrees from this institution and someone that’s chaired advisory boards and that’s been on advisory boards, you’d think they’d get my surname spelling right. So let me put it to them that my surname is spelled “SURVE” and not “SURVEY”. For an institution of higher learning … is it because I’m black? Don’t blame the black man, okay, for that mistake, this is an institution of higher learning.

So anyway, just for all of you: it’s spelled SURVE. Look, I was going to come here with jeans and T-shirt cause my Mondays at my office is with a jeans and a T-shirt and Sandile Zulu was there in my office and saw me earlier today and firstly he made me really late and I thought, what the hell, I’m not going to go home and change, but more importantly I thought: why should I dress up for (50 minutes 11seconds) an institution that doesn’t respect me as a black man that has come from this institution. But then I thought: wait a minute, I’m not here for this institution, I’m here to address my fellow black alumni – and therefore I went home and put on a suit and a tie, so I thought I need to respect you.

So, now I have to be very careful about what I say because firstly the media is here … and secondly, UCT communications department is here. And they have a way of finding things into the media that tends to distort things, so I hope you are recording what I’m saying OK so there’s no distortion about what I’m saying. My entire life I’ve lived a principled position, I’m a non-racialist, I remember what Antonio Gramsci said in his prison diaries: This is the enterigne that we are facing, when the old is not yet dead and the new is not yet born. I think UCT is pretty much in that space at the moment. The problem with me is that I get into a lot of trouble, because I speak my mind, I’m not afraid of anybody and frankly speaking, you know, I have my own resources to be able to tackle things. They’ve tried to stop me from saying what I want to say – it hasn’t worked. And it will never work, because the one thing I’ll be true to is to be my authentic self. So sometimes, I’m going to say things here which you won’t like me for, but frankly speaking, that’s what you have to do. If you believe in real transformation and real change, you must not be afraid of the consequences because that’s how they get to you, because they threaten you with the careers that you’ll not advance if you speak, because your career’s under threat. Ultimately they make the decisions. They threaten you with the scholarships; with this and that and everything else, or even with passing.

Or as a lecturer said to me in my final year: “Why don’t you keep quiet?” in one of the examinations. So I’ve been through this institution, I know it very well. I’ve got three degrees from this particular institution. Frankly speaking it’s a racist institution; frankly speaking, it’s an institution that hasn’t changed 20 years into our democracy. And those charlatans of change that continue to pretend to change, have no intention of changing, because until you change the power structure of this institution – you’ll have no change. They’ll pay lip-service to the change, they’ll remove a statue or two, they’ll cover it up here and there. But that’s fundamentally not the problem, the problem is that the leadership of this institution needs to change. It cannot not represent and it cannot just change with a token black vice-chancellor – it has to change entirely from the vice-chancellor to senior management, faculty heads, and senior lecturers. And workers should not be outsourced – it should be part and parcel of this institution and its decision making. And only until you do that, can there be real change in this institution.

No elite in the world has ever removed itself from power, it has never existed and it’s not going to exist – it’s not going to happen in this institution. They’ll pay for time; they’ll take you in a different direction and do all those sorts of things. They’ll pay lip-service as they often do to real change. I stood in this university not a long time ago, just over two decades ago – launching the black student society. Some of you are sitting here. Subsequent to that we launched ADASA and SASM and we led the student movement. We did not ask for change, we demanded change. And we demanded the institutions of power in this country that oppress us must change and we took the revolution – no-one gave it to us.

Now, quite frankly speaking, my own media experience as an example is that when I took over independent media and I made the changes which I’m telling you this institution needs to make, they said well the readership will go down, the circulation will go down, everything will go down. The truth is, yesterday the AMPS results were released, the Cape Times readership has gone up by 35,000, in spite of what some person has said about the boycott of the Cape Times. The Argus readership has gone up by 65,000. In 10 years since we took over the Cape Times, in the 10 years before we took it over, it was declining. For the first time, circulation readership is going up. Why? The reason is that we brought about real change, we started speaking about people’s real lives and as they are reflected in this community in Cape Town. We started giving voice to different people, poor and rich. We started giving voice to different parts of our society.

No longer was it okay to be a UCT student and piss on a black cleaner. No longer was it okay to be a UCT student and beat up a security guard and have nothing done by the leadership of the institution.  So that kind of behaviour is what our newspapers are reflecting and because we are correctly reflecting it, people are buying it, because for the first time they get to see that. Now I know there’ll be attempts to silence me, but the point is this: (I’ll be shortly silenced) frankly speaking – this is not your institution, this is a public institution, receiving public money and you do not own it, you do not have the right to determine what happens at this institution. It needs to be democratised – it’s been funded on the back of the South African taxpayer, it’s been funded on the back of our democracy and (56 minutes, 40 seconds) if you want real change – I suggest that change the leadership of this institution. Change it in its entirety – it’s no longer acceptable. And let’s demand that change, because that change is real.

Our people have a right to participate in the leadership of this institution; that is a right; that is not a request. We have a right to suggest because we are black it takes us 20 years to become professors, it’s no different to the lecturers at medical school that told us we could not qualify. We were 10% black students in a class that was 200. We could never qualify because we were black, we shouldn’t be here, we don’t belong. The fact is: we do belong. It is not you who tell us who belongs. You are simply public servants – you serve us as we hold the government to accountability, we are going to hold you to accountability. If we demand transformation of every single institution in this country, why should we not demand transformation from you? What gives you the right to make decisions on our behalf? You have no such right. Unless you are prepared to democratise your institution and bring in fundamental changes in terms of decision-making to include more black people, more other stakeholders, and workers.

I’m suggesting that real change, as when I bought independent media and I said let’s not tinker at the edges, cause it’s not, if we’re going to serve our country well, if we’re going to give voice to all people in our county, no matter where they come from, if we’re going to try and create a South African Society that we all fought for and we so desperately desire, let’s not do it by tinkering at the edges. Let’s bring about fundamental change. Just in case you’re mistaken, I want to make it very clear, I’m a non-racialist, in every aspect of my life I’ve been a non-racialist. For me the issue is not about simply black and white, the issue is about power, the issue is about ideology, the issue is about cabals, the issue about jobs for pals, contracts for pals, the issue is about promoting your friends and those that come from your social circles into professorships and senior lecturers. The issue is about ignoring black people and the issue is about trying to defend statistics that are indefensible. 20 years into our democracy, these statistics are not acceptable.

Now, I know that I may have angered many of you and I know I may have lost a few friends along the way, but I’ve gotten used to being a lonely person. One friend said to me: the day that you own the media, you lose all your friends. It’s entirely true. So with that, all I have to say is: this is not about me and neither is it about you. This is about the future generations and the struggles that you’re doing right now is to lay the foundation for real transformation, in terms of content, symbols, but ultimately transformation only comes about, in my entire life I’ve learned one thing only: until you the power structures of an institution, you will have no transformation. You’ll simply have superficial and artificial changes.

I’ve overstayed my welcome, thank you very much.  

One hour 43 minutes and 40 seconds to 1- 46 – 44

I just want to take up the one notion and maybe just clarify. The notion that UCT is liberal: I can’t even accept that, frankly speaking, I think it’s a very conservative institution and I say this from a scientific point of view. You know, when I was at this institution, there were people of power that are at, whatever you want to call it, Azania House, Bremner, that are still there today. The very people that implemented the apartheid policies are preventing black students, willingly, by the way, from coming to this institution – are still there today. Contest that if you will, Max, but they are still there today. Those are the key decision makers that continue to make decisions in this institution. That is not acceptable – the very people that prevent the black people from coming here, having to apply for permits, having to have the permits, going through the humiliation of having to have the permits renewed every year. The very people that told us you do not belong at this institution are still very much at Bremner/Azania House.

Now I think that’s the first thing, the second thing is that I make the point again that all of this, you know, the Rhodes statue, while I was sitting here, thinking, it’s one thing to remove the statue, it’s another thing to remove the living embodiment of the statue. Because people can hide behind fancy language and talks and all of these things, but until they show real commitment to change with a programme of change that effectively democratised the institution in terms of gender, in terms of race, in terms of very many other things, in terms of the core decision making, that’s the very key. I have not heard Max Price say a single thing about real change at this institution today. I’ve simply seen him talk at the edges. I gave him some advice a couple of months ago, I gave him advance warning in my office with Mr. Krenshaw in there and I told him, you don’t understand the undercurrent of issues at this institution, instead of listening to me they played the man instead of the ball – they ignored my good advice which I gave them. I’m again giving Mr. Price and the leadership of this institution good advice, don’t come for me, I’m just simply telling you what the issues are. You need to change the institution completely AND be brave enough, Max, you and I come from a long history of struggle, be brave enough to fundamentally change – one second – just change the institution at its core, don’t tinker at the edges.

Two hours five minutes 41 sec to two hours nine minutes and 25 sec

Thank you very much, first of all, I just want to say thank you for listening and for allowing us to be part of the panel. I think it was a very specific question about what can be done – let’s address that. I want to suggest in line with what Zubeida has mentioned, let’s create a committee that holds the institution accountable. That’s really important, so let’s create a committee of workers, the academic staff, the students and other staff – a non-racial committee that ask for real change and real decision making in the institution. Let’s have that committee organised at an institutional level as well as at a faculty level and let that committee have a programme of action and let’s give specific targets, let’s give Prof Price an opportunity to in fact prove what he’s saying today. Let’s set the targets for real transformation and decision making. I think that’s the first point I want to make. The second point is, it was Dr Kessi’s daughter that inspired me – she wrote a brilliant article in the Argus about what it’s like to be black, living in Cape Town. That article was the most read piece on IOL, our internet platform and it also attracted the most vitriolic racist comments. And of course I invited her for tea and subsequent to that I took action as the first media owner to put in place a commission of enquiry into online comments and I’ve received that report from the experts and we’re going to act against racist comments, gender, violent comments, etc. all these things. Now, small changes bring about big changes, so this is part of an overall change, but I would like to give some more friendly advice to the institution.

I’ve given them advice for a long time, just one bit of advice which is important advice: Please, I’m begging you, not to ostracize the students that are leading this protest movement, not to ostracize the academics that have decided to put their names to paper and not to penalize them for having the courage to speak out. I’m asking you to accept that this is a democracy, that this is an institution that allows for multiple voices and to give them the space, and not to ostracize them silently, behind the scenes by preventing their careers. But I also want to say to you: if you do that, you will come up against me and I have substantial resources. And I’m not a guy you want to tackle with easily, so just remember that I will defend their democratic right to differ with you. I will do that. And the last point I want to make, I want to invite, I’m going to do this, I want to invite every single one of you, black and white, because our struggle is a non-racial struggle – it’s not a struggle of one colour. I want to invite every single person to write to Independent, like a twitter thing, 140 characters with your photograph and we’ll publish a full page of your views about UCT. So we’ll give you a week, we’ll go by the association; I want our readers to hear your views about UCT. There it is. Thank you very much.

For me, if there is one photograph that summarises and encapsulates the period that followed this speech by Iqbal Survé, it was the expressions on the faces of the mother and widow of Professor Bongani Myosi and the testimony of his family at his funeral:

Professor Bongani Mayosi’s soul was “vandalised” by #FeesMustFall protestors, his sister said at the cardiologist’s funeral yesterday.

Ncumisa Mayosi told more than 2000 mourners in Cape Town that the depression that led to her brother’s suicide nine days ago began when he became dean of health sciences at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

“He was hardly two weeks in his new position and the protests broke out”, she said. “The vitriolic nature of the students and their do or die attitude vandalised his soul and unravelled 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.” – #FeesMustFall to blame say Mayosi family Sunday Times 5/8/2018.

Those words will have resonated with the UCT students whose lives were disrupted by the Fallists who, in turn, must have been encouraged by the supportive words of Iqbal Survé on 7 April 2015.

One gets an idea of what Professor Bongani Mayozi endured for weeks on end when one looks at this video clip of a white UCT student being assaulted when an attempt was made to record the disruption of a lecture by Fallist thugs led by Ntokoza Qwabe, best-known for his brave humiliation of a waitress because she was white and poorer than him. The Fallist rabble pursued Mayozi into the sanctity of his home, threatening him through Whatsapp messages. Eventually, as his family have made a matter of record, he cracked and, in his Fallist-induced despair, took his own life.

Two quotes, for me, summarise that tragic period and the role of the Cape Times at that time:

‘RMF didn’t fail just because it was the most confusing, divisive and xenophobic campaign to have featured since 1994, but because it was executed by vile personalities.’

Simon Lincoln Reader, Business Day 6/5/2016

‘What appears to be a highly personalised pursuit of a university vice-chancellor by the owner of a newspaper and his editors and reporters is unusual even by the erratic standards of political reporting in South Africa.’  (Page 204)

Jonathan Jansen As by Fire – The end of the South African University (Tafelberg 2017)

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Ed Herbst started his news career as a photographer with the Natal Witness in 1968 but quickly switched to reporting while retaining an interest in photography. He joined the SABC in its Pretoria news office as a camera reporter in 1977, one year after television was introduced in South Africa. In 1978 he was seconded to the SABC’s Windhoek office for six months to cover the run-up to the country’s UN-monitored election and was then posted to the SABC’s Sea Point news office. He asked for early retirement in 2005 because of pervasive SABC corruption, news censorship and unaddressed abusive treatment of staff. From 2007 to 2009 he was employed as a consultant in the media department of the Cape Town municipality but became a pensioner when personal circumstances forced him to retire. He now writes without remuneration for local websites about the interface between media and politics. He is writing a book on media capture after 1994.

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