The New UCT

At the University of Cape Town (UCT) “Yesterday is dead and gone and tomorrow's out of sight.” Artwork by 12-year-old Rachael  Part 2: Tomorrow's out of sight

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The New UCT Artwork by Rachel

Part 1 chronicled the ‘death’ of the now ‘gone’ ‘Old’ UCT. Its demise was ‘achieved’ by means of a combination of character assassination, institutional defamation, knowledge cleansing, and destructive decolonization implemented by powerful members of biased committees and ad hoc task groups/teams who acted under the guise of promoting “inclusivity” and whose recommendations were endorsed by UCT’s Council.

But, in fact, what is promoted as ‘inclusivity’ at my beloved alma mater and employer for nearly a half-century is embodied unambiguously in the Constitution of UCT’s officially recognized Black Academic Caucus (BAC).

  1. Advocate for an inclusive and diverse academic institution that also prioritizes Black staff and their knowledge
  2. Influence transformation and decolonization of UCT and create a space for black scholars to come together [NB inconsistent capitalization of “black”]
  3. Influence the higher education landscape in South Africa with regards to transformation and decolonisation [NB inconsistent spelling of decolonialization]
  4. Advocate for transforming the curriculum and research scholarship so that it is linked to social justice and the experiences of black people
  5. Advocate for increased number/s of black academic staff employed by the university, particularly in the professoriate and an increase in South African black staff
  6. Advocate for increased representation of black academics in the governance of the university
  7. Challenge the misrepresentation of black academics in discourses of standards and academic excellence
  8. Challenge unfair practices that obstructs (sic) the career paths of black scholars

But, what is ‘Real’ inclusion within universities globally? It is generally understood as that which generates a social environment that deliberately and actively embodies the idea of mutual respect and concern. Real inclusion values engagement with – rather than ‘enragement’ against – others, and it actively facilitates the creation of environments of learning and interaction in which every member feels welcome, equal, and valued. It requires an environment that cultivates social trust.

In short, institutional inclusiveness is more than just diversity determined by demographic ‘representation’ driven by “affirmative action” (See here and here). It is a culture in which people from ALL social groups – e.g. ‘delineated’ by, ‘race’, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, religion, etc. — are fully embraced and respected. An inclusive environment is one in which every individual(s) is/are afforded the opportunity and space to do his/her/their best work, unimpeded by stereotype or discriminatory arrangements.

However, inclusivity at today’s UCT ignores and/or erases historical reality which now takes a back seat to current perception-based “narratives”.

“Those who control the present control both the past and the future” – George Orwell’s 1949 novel “1984.”

This piece attempts to bring UCT’s ‘future’ in ‘sight’.

Tomorrow! I’ll love ya tomorrow! It’s only a day away!

In fact, UCT’s ‘tomorrow’ is very much in sight. This was made clear on 10 December 2021 at the installation of UCT’s new Chancellor, Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepea day after the Annual General Meeting of the UCT Convocation chose not to support consulting alumni about the shenanigans of the Naming of Buildings Committee vis-à-vis the de-naming historically important places at UCT. (See here, here and here).

The event started on a high note with stirring addresses by VC Prof. Mamokgethi Phakeng and Ms Babalwa Ngonyama, Chair of UCT’s Council. They stressed that the Chancellor of UCT needs to be “an individual of stature with exceptional personal qualities and integrity” who can play key “bridging roles” between UCT and those who govern Her at the national level of tertiary education and between UCT and the ‘Real’ – especially financial – World nationally and globally. They also mentioned “how far we have come” and the “promise of opportunities that lay ahead” for the “full spectrum of the wider UCT community” including the “broader UCT diaspora”.

They further celebrated the fact that – for the first time in UCT’s history – She is being led by a troika of “powerful Black women” who, individually, have overcome massive obstacles while achieving great success – nationally and globally. These “sisters” have complementary skills and, most importantly, are united in their commitment to VC Phakeng’s Vision for 2030 that will implement a new strategy that looks to a “future based on three pillars that represent the foundation of the academic project at UCT” – “excellence, transformation and sustainability”.

Excellence embodies “nurturing rational and creative thought and free enquiry   in teaching, learning and research”. With regard to transformation, the core Vision documents do little more than avoid using the words “black”, “white” and “race”. However, there is one potentially disturbing sentence:

“Despite its location in Afrika, UCT’s Afrikan roots are not sufficiently valued and foregrounded in its global performance as a research university or in its curriculum.”

The meaning of UCT’s “Afrikan roots” is clarified elsewhere by Vision-authors as “reclaiming Afrika’s agency” via “research solving Afrika’s problems that contributes to global knowledge” and “unleashing knowledge in and from Afrika to redefine and co-create a sustainable, global future” to re-create UCT as an inclusive home for all. (My emphasis)

Another different and disturbing take on using Afrika is offered by Dr Claud(e?) Anderson and “many activists” who maintain that the “k” represents a “redefined and potentially different Afrika” that “symbolizes a coming back together of Afrikan people worldwide”. In sharp contrast, “Most whites think of ‘Africa’ from a different worldview and have a European ethos.” In historical support for this view Anderson quotes the words of Marcus Garvey (1887-1940): “Afrika For The Afrikans“.

Sadly for ‘pro-Afrika’ activists, Garvey seems to have never used the word “Afrika” in any of his writings. Garvey was a Jamaican-born African Black nationalist and leader of a Pan-Africanist movement. He promoted a “separate-but-equal” philosophy of social, political, and economic freedom for Black people, and sought to re-connect people of African descent worldwide by “establishing an African country and absolute government of their own.”

W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963), the best-known spokesperson for African American rights during the first half of the 20th century and co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) initially considered Garvey’s separatist philosophy merely as ill-conceived. In the end, he and other supporters of racial integration eventually decided that Garvey was: “an unscrupulous demagogue who has ceaselessly and assiduously sought to spread among Negroes distrust and hatred of all white people”.

The ‘Bad Old Days’

The Sisters also referred to former VC Dr Mamphela Ramphele whose administration (1996-1999) was characterized by a marked decline in student violence and major broadscale constructive transformation of UCT’s academic, administrative and leadership culture. During my near half-century at/with UCT, this was the ‘best’ period of Her now allegedly ‘Bad Old Days’. Unlike her successors, Ramphele had a bottom-line vis-à-vis student involvement with university policy:

“Given their status as a transient population … students cannot be allowed to participate in decisions where conflicts of interest are so glaring as to make a mockery of the integrity of higher-education institutions.”

Sadly, the Ramphele ‘Magic’ lost momentum after her premature departure and, by design, went profoundly pear-shaped during the second term of VC Max Price.

In more ways than one, VC Phakeng was – literally – handed a ‘hospital pass’.

Quō vādis UCT?

If the installation event featured only the inspiring addresses of Phakeng, Ngonyama and, later, Moloi-Motsepe, one might be persuaded that there is good reason to believe that, by 2030, the ‘New’ UCT will have been transformed into a much more inclusive, non-racial, Afrikan university that sustains excellence in teaching and research that still warrants a high global ranking.

However, there were three other key invited speakers that gave me pause: Paul Kagame, Keith Gottschalk and Mila Zibi. Indeed, Chancellor Moloi-Motsepe sat flanked on the stage by Gottschalk and Zibi.

Kagame is the highly controversial, multi-‘re-elected’, authoritarian president (benevolent dictator?) of Rwanda. Human rights groups have accused him of political repression and United Nations’ reports allege his support for at least two insurgencies in the DRC that resulted in the deaths of millions and for his role in the assassination of exiled political opponents. For years, he played a leading role in the Tutsi-led Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) that waged guerrilla war against the Hutu-led Rwandan government at the time. He allegedly committed war crimes and perhaps even may have been involved in plotting the shooting down of a plane carrying Rwandan and Burundi Presidents Habyarimana and Ntaryamira that precipitated the Rwandan Genocide. During this conflict, he became a leader of the RPF and played a key role in eventually ending the genocide. However, Kagame’s tactics and actions during the genocide were controversial with some researchers concluding that he prolonged conflict, genocide and assassinations and wars in the DRC to enable him to take power nationally. In the late 1990s, Kagame launched an ambitious programme of national development called Vision 2020 implemented via increased state control of the economy using corporations with strong ties to the state and the ruling party.

Gottschalk was selected to represent UCT’s alumni. Sadly, he is by no means a representative alumnus. He was an ardently pro-ANC activist undergrad during 1964-1967, the last few, tumultuous years of the administration of VC JP Duminy Era. This period covers the events such as the assignation of HF Verwoerd and terror-bombings by UCT student/graduate members of the African Resistance Movement (ARM). To UCT’s great embarrassment, UCT-graduate and academic Adrian Leftwich, a founder of ARM, collaborated with the apartheid police, disclosing the identities of many senior ARM cadres, UCT students he had recruited and members of the underground South African Communist Party. Many other ARM members and supporters were imprisoned, some for more than a decade on Robben Island.

In an address presented in 2018 summarizing UCT’s history during the Duminy administration (1958-1967)that coincided with the highly oppressive premiership of HF Verwoerd – Gottschalk alleged that the VC was a second-rate leader, “reactionary aberration”, “authoritarian principal of school children” who colluded with the apartheid regime assisted in the Executive by a Principal’s Liaison Officer who was an Apartheid ‘agent’. Some of these allegations are even ‘confirmed’ in official UCT historian’s Howard Phillips’ UCT Under Apartheid: From Onset to Sit-in, 1948–1968.

None of these allegations withstand evidence-based scrutiny, all of which is ignored by Gottschalk and Phillips. See here and here.

So, despite the compelling evidence that UCT endured – indeed peacefully undermined and resisted – apartheid from the 1940s until its downfall in 1994, She is still unjustly branded as “entrenched” with racism founded in a “divisive legacy of colonialism” that needs to be “erased”.

Zibi – described as a “wonderful young man” by the new Chancellor – is a 20-year-old UCT undergrad who is president of the Students Representative Council (SRC) and Chairperson of the UCT Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFF-SC). Only 27% of the eligible students voted in the SRC election – just 2 points above the required minimum. He has described UCT as the “so-called number 1 university in Africa”. In March 2021 he led an invasion and occupation the Kramer Law Building to “give us a way forward”. He self-describes – ”without a doubt” – as a “radical and militant action-based” leader who favours “strong and robust” leadership. His goal is to bring about and realise change “as quickly as possible” to “make students’ life experiences easier”. Politically, he declares as a “Marxist-Leninist-Fanonian” and supports “collective leadership” in the form of Leninist “democratic centralism”. “We must constantly disrupt the status quo and make the racist system tremble at its feet.”

One wonders how wise it was to link the installation of UCTs with these two powerful older men and militant radical young student.

Despite a perception-based narrative that suggests that the goals of Fallists, the BAC and powerful – but strongly biased – individuals on committees/task-groups/Council is to destructively ‘decolonize’ UCT into a ‘visionless‘ politically focused ‘pluriversity’ that relegates whites’ (and non-South African blacks and bi-multi-racial ‘non-whites’?) into oddments, I still believe that the Sisters may still deliver on Vision 2030.

However, I close with a quote from another favorite song from the 1960s.

“Still I look to find a reason to believe.”

Hot off the internet press!

In a Statement entitled The Crisis at UCT issued on 3 February 2022 on behalf of UCT’s Students’ Representative Council (SRC), its Vice-President Siya Plaaijie (srcvp@uct.ac) and Deputy Secretary General Abicha Tshiamala (srcsg@uct.ac.za) indicated that there are allegations that SRC President Mila Zibi (srcpresident@uct.ac.za) and his close friend SRC Secretary General Sandile Monoane (srcsg@uct.ac.za) – both of whom are also leaders within Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFF-SC) – have, respectively, committed rape/sexual assault on a first-year UCT female student and enabled incidents of sexual harassment and intimidation prior to or following the alleged rape. The SRC has also indicated that “several other allegations have surfaced”.

The alleged rape took place on 28 October 2021 and the context of the accusation is outline in a tweet written by the alleged victim. According to the student, Zibi allegedly lured her to a dark area near the campus gym, coerced her into drinking alcohol and, without her consent, sexually assaulted her. “I was frozen and I did not know what to do. At no point did I reciprocate or give consent but was scared and felt like I couldn’t fight back and should just let him do what he wanted in hopes that it would be over soon,” the woman recalled.

The matter is being investigate by the UCT OIC (Office for Inclusivity and Change). The OIC is housed in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor and reports directly to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Transformation. It provides institutional responses to transformation, sexual and gender-based violence, disability and cultural change. The university’s spokesperson Nombuso Shabalala commented: “UCT maintains a survivor-centred approach whilst ensuring that a fair and due process is concluded as swiftly as possible. We have a specialist dealing with these matters.”

Zibi has been temproarily suspended by the university and was due to appear on 3 February 2022 before a Special Tribunal Hearing for Gender-Based Violence to appeal his suspension, pending a possible trial.  When requested by the SRC to relieve themselves of their duties pending further investigation, to the SRC’s “disgust”, both Zibi and Monoane refused to do so. In response to their refusal, the SRC took action:

“[R]egardless of the outcome of this hearing, the SRC has taken a stance that we cannot have an alleged rapist as the president of the SRC. We cannot in good conscience reinstate him until the outcome of the formal case has been determined. We would also like to highlight the repulsive way that the president and his constitutents [fellow EFF-SC members?] have dealt with this matter. To arrogantly refuse to temporarily step aside, (allegedly) mislead students and (allegedly) send threats to [them], shows that the president prioritises his personal interests over student opinion and feelings of safety.”

Zibi has vehemently denied the sexual assault accusations, claiming to have irrefutable proof that will exonerate him from suspicion and that he has been in communication with the OIC and they have confirmed that there is no case which has been opened against him.

More later?

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1 comment

  1. Rory Short Reply

    UCT was founded by Western Europeans to nurture Western Europeans. In the current socio-political environment in SA this is seen as an offensive thing to have done in the first place and all evidence of it should be eliminated.


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