UCT Leaders Are Erasing Heritage and Rewriting History

UCT Fallists have put a hold on defacing statues, invading residences/lectures/seminars/ official meetings, burning artwork and ostracizing academics/administrators/invited speakers. This is because some of the more egregious lawbreaking Fallists have been rapidly amnestied for past offenses using questionable “restorative justice” – thanks to the Institutional...

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UCT Fallists have put a hold on defacing statues, invading residences/lectures/seminars/ official meetings, burning artwork and ostracizing academics/administrators/invited speakers. This is because some of the more egregious lawbreaking Fallists have been rapidly amnestied for past offenses using questionable “restorative justice” – thanks to the Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (IRTC) that they and their supporters helped to create. The rest of this cohort of miscreants hope be amnestied through pressure from their supporters within the IRTC’s Steering Committee, thereby circumventing UCT’s Executive and Council. One Fallist leader, former Students’ Representative Council President and a Founding Father Fallist, Ramabina Mahapa, has even been hired as a researcher by UCT. Mahapa is noted for his provocative comments including inter alia:

“We therefore need to consolidate our power and break the resistance of the ‘white’ community in trying to preserve the status quo. Blacks need to rally behind dismantling ‘white’ supremacy to its very core.”

“UCT’s environment propagates Uncle Toms (i.e. ‘black’ liberals) [Bongani Mayosi?] who will take every opportunity to ridicule blacks who speak of the problem of racism; they claim that class is the issue.”

“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.”

An article in the Daily Maverick confirms Mahapa’s “close relationship between the [Fallist] movement and [Dr Iqbal Survé’s] Independent Group”.  “I would say that there was an element of the Cape Times newspaper wanting stories that would humiliate the University, one of the movement’s tactics was to create as much negative publicity for the university so that they would act.”

All this said, Fallists & Co. continue to employ defamation, hate speech and another more nuanced, less ‘visible’ strategy that may still succeed in irreparably damaging UCT.

Killing UCT ‘softly’

This ‘invisible’ assault weapon is burdening UCT’s community with failing, costly centralized administrative and academic ‘support’ structures, fuzzy goals and ad hoc task/working groups and special advisors. These structures and social engineers are armed with ad hoc reports (here, here ), ‘strategy’ and ‘framework’ documents, reviews, strategic plans and historical discussions. The assumptions on which all these structures/people/documents are based or act are that UCT exists to commemorate the legacies of unquestionably dishonourable people and racist systems, and was, and continues to be, institutionally racist. Indeed, acting DVC for Research and Internationalisation Michael Kyobe supported this misrepresentation of UCT’s history at a December 2018 graduation when he referred to her “complicity during Apartheid in denying many past [African] students and staff full and dignified participation in the life of the university”. This ‘erasing’ and misleading-rewriting of “Little Moscow on the Hill’s” heritage and history has been broadcast widely in an article published recently in Nature, “the world’s most cited scientific journal”. Hopefully, UCT’s Executive, Senate and Council will take steps to correct it. I have already expressed my views on the article and on the IRTC Final Report and Curriculum Change Working Group Framework. The purpose of this piece is to deal briefly with the 2018 Transformation Report and the lecture series on some of UCT’s past Vice Chancellors sponsored by her Development and Alumni Department (DAD). Sadly, the former has already been “debated” by members of Council (and Senate and non-professorial academics?) who resolved to adopt it and submit it to the Department of Higher Education and Training. The latter has not even been discussed, let alone debated.

 2018 Transformation Report (from which the following quotes are extracted)

The two primary goals of UCT’s Transformation Process are driving “institutional culture change” and re-enforcing her “identity as an African university” in “response to the current academic, social and economic realities of staff and students”. The university needs to “bridge the divide between the academic and social projects in the University”, and action must be “inclusive, encourage belonging, and changing ways of doing, knowing and being”. The Report is replete with words like “student and staff access and support”, “safe place and space”, “discrimination and harassment”, “community engagement/ partnership”, “owning our African identity”, “inclusive classrooms” and “embracing social justice”. It provides little guidance how all this is to be assessed, let alone achieved. Excellence in any arena (e.g. teaching and research) is not discussed and the word appears only eight times – associated with words like “antithesis”, “new meaning” and ”cannot be sustained without transformation and inclusivity”.

The Report calls for “action and accountability” to be “decentralised” to faculties and departments. But, other than continuing to implement  the ‘palaeo-transformation’ policies that these world-renowned structures have employed since the ‘Good Old Days’ (the Saunders and Ramphele Eras), the Report offers no new guidelines, let alone a framework or assessment strategy. For example, reminiscent of Monty Python, it refers to an unexplicated “Theory of Change”. It would also be useful to hear more about the referenced “Unconscious Bias Tool” under construction. Moreover, given all this, the Report still calls for continued input from costly, space hungry and highly-populated structures such as the Curriculum Change Working Group (CCWG), the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED), Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT), Employment Equity Forum (EEF), Emerging Researcher Programme (ERP), Institutional Forum (IF), Institutional Information Unit (IIU), Institutional Planning Department (IPD), New Generation Professoriate (NGP), Transformation Forum (TF), and so on.

Just what have these ‘structures’ achieved above and beyond what could be done within properly resourced academic departments and faculties to justify their supernumerary existence? What have they done to constructively decolonize curricula and pedagogy, improve/eliminate “killer courses” and increase the throughput and quality of PoC students and recruitment and advancement of PoC academics. This justification is also essential to persuade top-notch “No Show” students and staff to take up offers to come to UCT. More specifically, what has the 10-person Office for Inclusivity and Change led by Prof. Loretta Feris, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Transformation and key author of the Report, done to meet the abovementioned metrics? Why has “the Office of the Registrar, for example, agreed on minimum [lower?] qualifications for all jobs in order to include disadvantaged people”? Why are “individual selection committees [being asked to] handle multiple posts simultaneously”?

So far, all that UCT ‘transformers’ offer so far are ‘quick-and-easy decolonized mathematics’ proposed during the “Raju Affair” (here, here, here and here), “visions” and “missions” and requests for more resources and time. Given its poor track record to date, it’s difficult to see how the use of a Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment “scorecard” will be of any additional benefit. Finally, how will the Report’s authors measure/assess ‘inclusion’ and the effects of ‘change interventions’? Indeed, at least some of these structures actually undermine the functionality of key personnel, since every minute students and academics spend ‘contributing’ to them is not spent on learning, studying, teaching, mentoring, nurturing, fundraising and interacting with each other and local communities.

VC lecture series

UCT’s position on the “right” side of history has been discussed before. DAD Executive Director Dr Russell Ally, a PhD-educated historian, reinforces DVC Kyobe’s misrepresentation of UCT in his grammatically-flawed introduction to the lecture series:

“UCT was borne (sic) at the height of the colonial conquest by Britain and the Dutch, and its early years echoed that heritage.” “For many, this history [of UCT] is understood to be one of racial exclusion, unearned privilege and Western hegemony, while marginalising African intellectualism and values.”

He neither enumerates nor identifies by name any of the “many” nor refers to substantive evidence to support this [his?] “understanding”. That would require balanced, ‘warts-and-all’ historical studies of UCT since its beginnings and an up-to-date, well-designed survey of UCT’s Community (including alumni) broken down by self-identity. The only such historical studies to date are UCT official historian Howard Phillips’ (1993) magnum opus covering the period 1918-1948 and my own much more race-sexism focused accounts (here, here) attempting to cover 1918-2017, supplemented by pieces published in my Blog Site (timguineacrowe.blogspot.co.za) and in the Rational Standard. Requests for an effective community survey were dismissed repeatedly by VC Price and Ally. But, to his credit, Ally states that the invited lecturers would use their summaries of UCT VCs to “locat[e] each period of UCT’s history within South Africa’s socio-political context at the time” and “add empirical evidence and nuance to the conversation”. Sadly, this was not achieved.

Apparently, there were no lectures on the first two VCs, Beattie and Falconer – who arguably reflect the racist/sexist/colonialist/patriarchal UCT – but maybe not so much in the light of “context”. There is no archived account of Phillips’ lecture on VC Davie in the public domain. Both Phillips and Ally’s assistant admit the existence of a video recording of the lecture, but UCT refuses to provide access to it. The remaining lectures are archived only in poor-quality audio format. Keith Gottschalk’s lecture on VC JP Duminy is a context-free, flagrantly biased, evidence-free account emphasizing Duminy as an overbearing disciplinarian and characterizing him as a “reactionary authoritarian” who colluded with the Apartheid Regime.  AC Jordan Prof. Lungisile Ntsebeza’s lecture on VC Sir Richard Luyt focuses on his alleged less-than-honourable role in the “Mafeje Affair” (see here, here and here), describing it as his “baptism of fire”, and emphasizes his inadequacies as an academic administrator. The remaining lectures on VCs Saunders, Ramphele, Ndebele and Price are little more than inchoate collections of anecdotes, rather than scholarly analyses. In fact, I often learned more from post-lecture questions than from the lectures themselves. None substantiate UCT’s ‘being’ as institutionally racist.

In an effort to achieve Ally’s original aim vis-à-vis using VCs as ‘mirrors’ of UCT’s history, I have written a series of 1500-3000-word pieces [with the exception of a much longer one on VC Max Price] on all nine VCs that integrate information from the lectures, published materials and interviews with VCs, DVCs, Registrars, HoDs, academics, alumni and students. I will offer them to UCT for communal access and archival, but I won’t hold my breath. Otherwise, use the e-mail address in my CV to contact me directly if you want to consult them.

The South African state is too big. The government takes too big a part of the economic pie for its own programmes. Why does it need taxpayer funds for these programmes? Because the state views itself as the bearer of what is good for the people. Without the government, who would provide us with water, roads, social grants, and electricity (that last one’s a joke, for international readers)? Our government has long ago abandoned its proper philosophical mandate, which is that government’s role must be limited to the protection of individual rights, nothing more.

Read Tim’s lived experience and curriculum vitae

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