UCT: Changing Names and Colours

All that appears to be changing at UCT is the colour of the T-shirts of lawbreaking ‘activists’.

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Incinerating Smuts UCT

During the VC-ship of Dr Max Price, there was genuine, cumulative exasperation over the poor pace of transformation at UCT (watch the video). In 2016, there were opportunistic, disruptive, intimidating, destructive and terrifying actions at UCT. These were perpetrated by a relatively small number of multi-amnestied, militant, radical, law-breaking Fallists. Some had links with PASMA – a relatively poorly supported radical, ideologically monolithic, revolutionary movement “guided by the philosophies of Pan Africanism and Marxism-Leninism that does not tolerate individualistic “opportunist elements”.

At the height of the disruption, Fallist protesters defaced with red paint the bust of South African anti-imperialist guerrilla-warrior/Field Marshall/Prime Minister/Chancellor/Scientist/Philosopher Jan Christiaan Smuts (1870-1950 – OM, CH, ED, PC, KC, FRS) above the entrance of Smuts Hall Residence (SH) and torched a plaque honouring his being. SH is UCT’s original and historically most important men’s residence. During the VC-ship of legendary anti-apartheid activist TB Davie, it was re-named after Smuts soon after his death in 1950.

One of the most prominent Fallist leaders, PASMA member Masixole Mlandu, defaced the Smuts bust and painted ‘slogans’ (‘F**K WHITE PEOPLE!!’ and ‘UCT IS A SITE OF CONQUEST’) on the UCT War Memorial commemorating members of the UCT community who had perished in WW I as well as those who had died fighting Nazism in WW II. Curiously, Mlandu unjustifiably ‘justified’ his illegal acts saying: “We were brutally murdered by this person”.

Mlandu’s comrades similarly defaced the bust of Mrs Maria Emmeline Barnard Fuller (1859-1957) at the entrance of Fuller Residence – the women’s residence opposite SM. Mrs Fuller ‘murdered’ no one. In 1886, she was one of the first women students to enrol at the South African College and, in 1893, married Dr Edward Barnard Fuller who later became chairperson of the UCT Council (1938-1945). Mrs Fuller was instrumental in establishing Arthur’s Seat, a residence for women students at the College and, from 1907, served on its house committee until a formal warden was appointed. She was also a founder member and first president of the National Council of Women and dedicated to promoting education and the enfranchisement of women.

After the South African College officially became UCT in 1918, Mrs Fuller was a member of the Provisional Committee appointed to oversee the development of the new Groote Schuur campus. In the same year she was one of two women appointed to the newly constituted University Council. The women’s residence was also re-named Fuller Hall re-named in her honour 1950, also in recognition of her contributions to UCT and the developing women’s movement. In the same year UCT awarded Fuller an Honorary Doctorate of Laws.

After spray painting the Fuller’s bust red, the female Fallist protesters shouted “Bitch!” as they wrapped red and white danger tape around the neck of the bust and tied it to a pillar to make it look like a noose around her neck.

In March 2016 Ramabina Mahapa – UCT SRC president and Rhodes Must Fall leader – outlined the Fallist strategy unambiguously:

“The aim is to get the university to reach a stage where they will be unable to concede to any more significant demands and therefore resort to use the state policing apparatus and private security to repress student protests. The expectation is that this will detach the black masses from the hegemonic bloc of the ruling party and thereby awaken the ‘sleeping’ masses that will then redirect their frustrations and rage towards not only the universities but the state.”

Fallists’ collective actions impacted the safety and security of thousands within a ‘silenced’ and fearful UCT Community and generated great, multidimensional harm – from which She and they are still recovering.

In the end, to achieve “reconciliation”, the cases of only eight admitted Fallist law-breakers were reviewed by the five-person Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (IRTC) agreed upon by the UCT Executive and nine Fallists, most of whom were members of PASMA. Based on recommendations outlined in the IRTC Final Report, the unnamed “Shackville Eight” were quickly granted amnesty by the then UCT Council. Amnesty included the obliteration of disciplinary sanctions, criminal records and civil liability for their actions. The amnesty also resulted in the University ensuring that the records of all students were “cleansed of all evidence which would have the possibility of impacting them negatively in the future”.

Amnesty was granted in the “spirit of restorative justice” to allow them to “graduate, pursue academic studies elsewhere, to be declared fit and proper persons and to be able to pursue future careers and opportunities”. RS was employed by the IRTC and elsewhere multiply at UCT instead of retributive justice, ”given the context of the protests, which were directed against a historic and recurring institutional culture and practice of perceived racism, violence and domination”.

In fact, although the unidentified amnestied Fallists admitted to and documented their illegal acts, the IRTC Report lacks any substantive evidence of racists, racist acts or structural/systemic racism at UCT. For this, the IRTC relied on the highly contentious, evidence-free Alumni Constituency’s Proposed Framework (Appendix B) which was not broadly circulated/ approved to/by alumni and not discussed – let alone debated and approved – by the IRTC Steering Committee. Moreover, since their latest amnesty by Council, Mlandu and another lawbreaker (see here, here and here) continued their aggressive ‘activism’.

Fast forward to 2021.

Next generation Fallists

In my last piece, like current Council member Michael Cardo, I respectfully requested that UCT’s Council carefully consider context and employ true restorative justice in its deliberations concerning the proposed ‘de-naming’ of  Smuts Hall. It should not be de/re-named without detailed analysis of Smuts’ motivations and actions, complemented by broad consultation with interested and affected parties within the UCT Community, especially past and current residents of SH.

Nevertheless, on 19 June 2021, “Council debated the proposal for the renaming of Smuts Hall and resolved that the current name be changed with immediate effect. This residence will be known as Upper Campus Residence until such time that a permanent name is confirmed.” No evidence – let alone justification – for the de-naming is mentioned or promised in the future.

In short, since the SRC proposal [or alleged earlier ones not in the public domain], the Naming of Buildings Committee (NoBC) and Council offered no new more “representative”, “inclusive”, “reflective” replacement appellation for the residence, they have effectively reversed apartheid-defying decisions by UCT’s community made in 1950 and erased one of UCT’s (and South Africa’s and the United Nations’) founding fathers and Chancellors from Her history and heritage.

Two days after the Council meeting (21 June), Babalwa Ngonyama, Chairperson of UCT’s Council, uncharacteristically commented prematurely (see here and here) in anticipation of her normal reported on a decision to de-name SH.

In her words:

“This is due to the necessity to formally convey this decision sooner due to the immediacy of its implications for the campus community.”

Chairperson Ngonyama’s ‘premature’ announcement was, actually, ‘post-mature’. On 19 June, the UCT Economic Freedom Fighters Students’ Command (EFF-SC) issued a communique -. signed by Ukanyo Mdakane (SRC member and residences and housing coordinator) announcing the decision to ‘de-name’ – “with immediate effect” – (SM). Sadly (inappropriately?), the EFF-SC had deliberately pre-empted Chairperson Ngonyama by leaking this confidential information. Why was this done and who was the source within Council/UCT?

Also sadly, on 21 June, EFF-SC members once again pre-empted ‘action’ by UCT. They defaced Smuts’ bust at the SM entrance and covered it with plastic garbage bags, saying Black students could “no longer” wait while the UCT leadership was “taking its time” [the bust was scheduled to be removed on 25 June] to remove the face of “their oppressor”. So far, there has been no formal admonishment of the EFF-SC for this act, let alone identification/charging of the perpetrators. However, in another communique dated 29 June 2021, the EFF-SC leadership revealed that proposal signatory Mdakane “has been alleged to have committed sexual offences” and they have “distanced themselves from Ukhanyo and are in solidarity with the survivors”.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself in this narrative, and the same may apply to the EFF-SC, NoBC and Council.

Let’s do some evidence-based research!

NoBC standard operating procedure

According to procedures approved by Council, the mandate of the non-racial, non-partisan NoBC requires it to fairly consider proposals for naming and renaming entities to ensure that UCT adheres to its strategic commitment as set out in the first goal of the 2016–2020 Strategic Planning Framework:

To forge a new, inclusive identity that reflects a more representative profile of students and staff, and the cultures, values, heritage and epistemologies of the diversity of UCT’s staff and students.

With regard to rules concerning the renaming of buildings that are currently named, a proposal to the NoBC must be accompanied by a motivation that convincingly makes the case for why the current name should be removed, proposes a new name, and motivates the rationale for adopting the new name. Where the name in question and its replacement are linked to a specific faculty or residence, the appropriate governance structures must be consulted in respect of the proposal.

Once a proposal is submitted to the NoBC, the committee must consider/debate it based on the following criteria:

  1. the historical and social significance of the existing name and the proposed new name;
  2. the circumstances that necessitate the change in the name of the building and
  3. the reasons as articulated in the motivation for renaming and/or naming.

and make a final recommendation to Council.

The cut-off time set for receipt of ‘re-naming’ proposals was 17:00 on Friday, 19 April 2019.

What actually happened?

Before I address the Council chairperson’s comments, let’s look at the NoBC-process that occurred before the 19 June Council meeting. I do this by asking questions.

Given the apparent 2019 cut-off date for proposals, why is the NoBC still extant and reviewing re/de-naming proposals?

Is there a new cut-off date or must the UCT Community “collectively” contemplate a never-ending re/de-naming process to achieve new relationally more “representative”, “reflective” “environments of inclusivity”?

So, in terms of the first goal of the Framework, how does ‘de-naming’ and ‘bust-de-facing’/removal – without re-naming – SH “forge” anything “new” and/or “inclusive” that reflects the “diversity” of UCT’s “heritage” – warts and all?

Now to the proposal to de-name Smuts Hall submitted to the NoBC on 10 May 2021 by THE UCT RESIDENCES COUNCIL and the “EFFSC-led” STUDENTS’ REPRESENTATIVE COUNCIL. Its body is 465 words covering one page. There are no supporting references, tables, appendices or documents.

Just what is and who are the EFF-SC?

The Economic Freedom Fighters Students’ Command (EFF-SC) is the “student wing” of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). The EFF is a far-leftwing pan-Africanist political party founded and strongly led (dictated to?) by Julius Malema.

The EFF-SC is, in fact a:

“radical and militant student Economic Emancipation which brings together revolutionary students, fearless, radical, and militant Activists, under the need to pursue the struggle for economic emancipation which is intertwined with free education. It derives its existence from the constitution of EFF and is governed by and adheres to the policies and programmes of the EFF. “Its actions are inspired by ideals promoted and practiced through organic forms of political leadership. It draws inspiration from Marxist-Leninist and Fanonian schools of thought on its analysis of colonialism, the education system, imperialism, race and class contradictions in every society.”

Just how in concept and action does the EFF-SC feature as a legitimate driver of non-racial, apolitical, academic transformation, sustainable excellence, reflecting a diversity of cultures, values, heritage and epistemologies at UCT?

Does the EFF-SC-led SRC proposal convincingly motivate for de-naming SH? Where is evidence of historical and social significance of the existing name and the proposed new name? What are the circumstances that necessitate the change in the name of the building and the reasons as articulated in the motivation for de-naming and/or naming? Is there any evidence that the NoBC solicited comments from anyone other than the proposers?

Why does the proposal list the non-partisan and impartial NoBC as a “stakeholder” vis-à-vis the proposal?

How can the proposers assert – and the NoBC and Council believe – that the “racist legacy of Jan Smuts remains unchallenged to this day”? Just what is this racist legacy? Is there any reputable historian/politician who does anything but condemn/dismiss his segregationist acts?

Are the proposers and the NoBC ‘recommenders’ serious when they imply that merely living in a building complex bearing Smuts’ name “contributes to the character of its inhabitants”. Their ‘evidence’ of this alleged racism-osmosis is “made manifest in the sort of students that are usually found in Smuts Hall – private school matriculants and a perception of a greater number of white students”. Did the NoBC engage with past and current ‘Smutsmen’? All they offer vis-à-vis the alleged demographic/racist ‘character’ of ‘Smutsmen’ are more assertions: “Whether the perception is true or not, it creates the reality.” “These students are perceived through their residence and by extension through their residence name as being racist and classist”. Any countering of the EFF-SC’s perception-based argument by those who choose not to support de-naming is portrayed by the EFF-SC as “defending/ preserving the racist legacy of Smuts”.

Council deliberations and decision

Now to Chairperson Ngonyama’s comments. I do this by deconstructing them in an effort to understand what they might actually mean in terms of actions – past and present.

First, how does the “immediate” effacing of Smuts name and speedy removal of his bust from SH without a more appropriate “representative”, “inclusive”, “reflective” replacement name or full discussion as to why/how the hall acquired its appellation and why it should cease.

Why did UCT not follow the a priori consultative procedure used for the effaced Jameson Hall? Was Smuts – according to the EFF-SC – “responsible for mass genocide against black people”? Or, is his ‘effacing’ simply “replacing what we do not like” and, as Cardo puts it, with a “resculpted racial chauvinism” driven by “the politics of progress in the present”. “Therein lies the real threat, and potential source of dishonour, to UCT.” Today it’s the ‘Smutsmen”. Who’s next?

All that appears to be changing at UCT is the colour of the T-shirts of lawbreaking ‘activists’.

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  1. Rory Short Reply

    As a life long opponent of authoritarianism, which is what drove Apartheid, I have a natural revulsion for the attitudes and behaviour evinced, by the ‘Fallists’ and their fellow travellers, as they smack of authoritarianism.

    It seems UCT’s authorities are incapable of recognising that they, in dealing with Fallists, are dealing with people of an authoritarian mindset equivalent to that possessed by the erstwhile proponents of Apartheid .

  2. Prof Tim Crowe Reply

    Dear Rory,

    The sad thing is that there was and still is a massive need to engage and collaborate with students and colleagues demanding transformation. During the Price VC-ship, they were ignored or, to some extent, treated patern/maternalistically by social engineers. Then, when the faeces literally hit the fan, some of the ‘ignored’ sided with destructive decolonists (DD) and much, much worse, Price CHOSE to negotiate with and then capitulate to the DD. VC Phakeng has a clear vision for meaningful transformation, but has yet said NO to and dealt decisively with DD.

Rational Standard
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