Is the ‘New’ University of Cape Town (UCT) dying from a misguided focus on Diversity-Inclusivity-Equity – DIE or Just under assault from a new bunch of rapacious radical students and self-serving staff and alumni?
Would this change to UCT’s War Memorial be acceptable to its Naming of Buildings Committee? Artist 12-year-old Rachael
Earlier this year (see here and here), I sadly reported on the ‘death’ of the allegedly systemically and institutionally racist ‘Old’ UCT. Based on the ‘truth’ of these evidence-free allegations: symbols reflecting Her warts-and-all history have been defaced/removed/destroyed; ‘un-liked’ people have been character-assassinated/ostracized/‘cancelled’- even driven to suicide; and aspects of Her historical legacy have been “erased”. Key players in this institutional ‘cleansing’ belong to small, loosely-connected – but powerful – cabals of recidivist law-breaking students, staff and alumni within UCT’s top leadership, committees, ‘advisory’ boards and ‘working’/’task’ groups who are determined to transform Her via de-constructive “de-colonization” designed to promote Diversity-Inclusivity-Equity (DIE).
This pernicious strategy is perhaps best explicated by Ms Lorna Houston, a disgruntled, “concerned progressive”, UCT alumna and former employee. She has served on the UCT Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission Steering Committee and as President of the UCT Convocation. She championed (wrote with the aid of the Black Academic Caucus?) the highly controversial, evidence-free Alumni Constituency Framework that proposes (not demonstrates) that institutional “cultural”, “symbolic”, “structural”, “psychological”, “invisible”, “epistemic” and “emotional” violence “justifies and legitimises physical violence” at UCT by the radical Fallist “vanguard”.
Houston claims that the ‘Old’ UCT’s “insidious racist” “past is still present” within a “system of uninterrupted privilege” that favours ‘whites’. “It’s lodged in the plaster on the walls, somewhere between the bricks and the paint” and needs “a lot of cleaning up”.
In sharp contrast to the de-colonialist cabals, there is a vast, ethnically/culturally/ideologically diverse – but un-consulted – ‘Silenced Majority’. It comprises a broad spectrum of the UCT Community that – certainly since the early 1950s – resolutely and peacefully resisted the Apartheid Regime, trying to avoid polemics, political and race-based ideology and aggressive activism. Its constituents persisted in demanding their academic freedom to teach, learn and conduct research in ways that BOTH satisfies their academic curiosity AND produces desperately needed, globally tested knowledge and world-leading African thinkers, educators and innovators who could deal with the seemingly endless and overwhelming socio-economic oppression.
Reason to believe
Despite this sad narrative, I still clung to ”find a reason to believe” that the a leadership troika of “Sisters” – Chancellor Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe , Council Chairperson Ms Babalwa Ngonyama and VC Prof. Mamokgethi Phakeng – could deliver on VC Phakeng’s non-racial Vision for 2030 . Vision 2030 aims to implement a new strategy that will generate a “future based on three pillars that represent the foundation of the academic project at UCT” – “excellence, transformation and sustainability”.
To a large extent, Phakeng’s Vision 2030 embodies and extends the vision outlined in a speech given in 1950 by her administrative great-great- great-great- great-great-grandfather, VC Thomas Benjamin Davie (1948-1955). Davie, like her, ‘nailed’ his and UCT’s academic principles to the ‘mast’.
UCT must be an “open” university populated by “those fitted by ability and training for higher education” … “aiming at the advancement of knowledge by the methods of study and research founded on absolute intellectual integrity and pursued in an atmosphere of academic freedom”.
“Real” universities must have the autonomy to decide:
- “who shall teach – determined by fitness and scholarship and experience;
- what we teach – the truth and not what it is demanded by others for the purposes of sectional, political, religious or ideological dogmas or beliefs;
- how we teach – not subject to interference aimed at standardization at the expense of originality; and [most importantly]
- whom we teach – [individuals] intellectually capable and morally worthy to join the great brotherhood [sic] which constitutes the wholeness of the university”.
Davie was not done. He went on to say that the university community should:
- “reflect the multi-racial picture of the society it serves;
- give a lead to the cultural and spiritual development of the different race groups as part of the developments of the community as a whole;
- aid the state by providing training for and maintaining standards in the learned professions and public services; and
- serve the community in the true sense of the university, i.e. as a centre for the preservation, the advance, and the dissemination of learning for its own sake and without regard to its usefulness, to all who are academically qualified for admission, irrespective of race, colour, or creed.”
No one has provided substantive evidence that, since then, UCT deviated from Davie’s Vision let alone perpetuated its racist/colonial past.
As I was about to submit my most recent piece, a shocking official statement (The Crisis at UCT ) was issued by UCT’s Students’ Representative Council (SRC). SRC President Mila Zibi and his close friend SRC Secretary General Sandile Monoane – both of whom are also self-proclaimed radical Marxist leaders within Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFF-SC) – had been accused of rape and/or sexual harassment and intimidation by a “female first-year UCT student“.
I ended the piece with the promise of “More later”.
Here is some ‘more-later’ information that, on the one hand, undermines my ‘reason-to-believe’ in the Sisters ability to deliver and, on the other, gives them evidence they could use to deal decisively with individuals and cabals who/that may wish to undermine Davie’s and the Phakeng’s Visions.
A few days after the release of the SRC ‘Crisis’ statement, UCT announced that the victim’s allegation was being investigated, presumably by the UCT Office for Inclusivity and Change (OIC). The OIC is housed in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor and reports directly to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Transformation, Student Affairs and Social Responsiveness. It is supposed to provide institutional responses to transformation, sexual and gender-based violence, disability and cultural change. The university’s spokesperson Nombuso Shabalala commented on the allegation: “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.” My emphasis.
The SRC took much swifter action on the matter and asked Zibi and Monoane SRC to take leave of their offices pending further investigation. When – to the SRC’s “disgust” – they refused to do this, they were suspended.
Only some days later did spokesperson Shabalala announce that “a student [Zibi?] has been placed on suspension while the matter continues being investigated by UCT’s Special Tribunal for Gender-Based Violence”. SRC spokesperson and acting president Siya Plaatjie complained that the university had not shared any information vis-à-vis the investigation and actions. According to SA Police spokesperson, Colonel Andrè Traut, no case vis-à-vis the matter has been reported to them.
Zibi has not yet responded to numerous requests for comment, but previously shared on social media that he had proof that he was not in Cape Town on the day the alleged rape and the allegations have been “popularised” against him.”
UCT’s track record on dealing with gender-based violence (GBV) by radical Fallists
If history is to be considered, since the beginning of Fallism in 2015, UCT (and the SRC/EFF-SC in particular) has produced a less than sterling performance vis-a-vis GBV against females by male students (e.g. Chumani Maxwele – see here and here – and Masixole Mlandu). Indeed, as recently as June 2021, the SRC announced that Ukhanyo Mdakane – an SRC and EFF-SC member who had been vocal about combatting gender-based violence – had been accused by fellow students of sexual assault and escorted from his residence to Mowbray Police Station. [BTW, Mdakane was the signatory of the perception-based and evidence/reference-free, two-page ‘proposal’ used by UCT’s Council to de-name Smuts Hall Residence.]
At that time, the SRC also said it was “disgusted” by Mdakane’s alleged actions. It stated unequivocally: “The SRC strongly condemns all forms of gender-based violence. We share the outrage of the student body and are shocked and disgusted that we have led alongside an alleged perpetrator. We also note the pain and trauma that may have resurfaced owing to this event – especially for survivors of this kind of violence.” My emphasis. Hence, the Mdakane incident may be the tip of a GBV ‘iceberg’.
Also at that time, UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said it was treating the incident with the “urgency and seriousness it demands” and would ensure due process was followed, and that it be “concluded as speedily as possible” because “the UCT executive appreciates and understands that a case like this causes significant anxiety in society and across the UCT community”.
As far as I can determine, during the seven months since Mdakane’s alleged assault, no criminal case has been registered vis-à-vis him and UCT has not revealed information vis-à-vis in-house action – or reasons for inaction – in its own right.
So much for urgency, seriousness and speedy action – let alone meaningful transformation and justice vis-à-vis GBV.
Back to the present
With regard to the latest alleged sexual assault, it seems to be taking a back seat to illegal protests by SRC-led students that have shut down the Upper Campus and disrupting aspects of the academic programme. Police spokesperson FC Van Wyk said approximately 200 students were protesting at the university. SRC spokesperson and acting SRC president Siya Plaatjie seems to be resolute to shut UCT down until all students were registered and council had resolved fee blocks.
VC Phakeng is opposed to a shut down: “The university will not be closing and the start of the academic year will not be suspended.”
In reply Plaatjie said: “In such a fragile time in our university, the leadership of the students finds itself between a rock and a hard place. We are baffled by the vice-chancellor’s desk, one that painted our efforts to fight for those the system excludes, as regressive”.
This attitude is incongruous since, unlike the ineffectual tactics vis-à-vis negotiations with students employed during the VC-Price-led Era, the current Executive has been in “continual communication with the SRC, providing them with updates on progress in completing the registration process for the new academic year”, especially with regard to student registration and debt-related fee blocks. Despite the reality that there have been unavoidable and short delays in completing registration for a relatively small number of students, Faculties have ensured that they have access to Vula and thus are not disadvantaged academically. Moreover, UCT has increased the threshold for the fee block for students with outstanding debt has been raised from R1000 to R10 000 and the grace period for appeals against exclusion for fee debt has been extended to 31 March.
In short, more than ever, UCT is committed to the serving the SRC and the student body it represents, collaborating with them to seek and find ways of overcoming all outstanding issues. Moreover, UCT convened a special meeting of Council – that has SRC-elected members – on 21 February 2022 that produced a strategy to deal with the SRC’s demands and invited the SRC “to take part in a joint working group with university management, to ensure that students who will benefit from the additional fee block concessions for 2022 can complete their registrations as rapidly as possible, so that their academic progress is not compromised”.
Hopefully these genuine efforts by UCT will persuade the SRC leadership to stop blocking access to campuses and cease to employ “insensitive and disrespectful tactics”. These include disrupting an online video presentation by a new member of the academic staff, teaching her first course at UCT. Furthermore, the SRC redistributed the video via their official UCT SRC Twitter page, resulting in further humiliation for the lecturer. The SRC also reneged on their undertaking to allow busses to leave the Health Sciences campus in order to staff the clinics that UCT services in townships across greater Cape Town.
In short, the ‘new’ protesters have been resorting to the ‘old’ law-breaking strategy that ‘worked’ against VC Price and are, once again, traumatizing members of UCT’s Silenced Majority by undermining their right to engage in the unfettered academic project.
If the SRC declines to cooperate and collaborate, maybe this “unacceptable” SRC strategy will now prompt UCT’s leadership to consult with members of the Silenced Majority to discover their views how UCT should be run. The last thing the Silenced Majority needs is for the current the Executive to cling to the Price-style strategy of asking for engagement with the EFF-SC-led SRC to “go through the list of demands to be met and find solutions together”.
What’s the BAC’s position and what’s it doing?
With regard to GBV, the BAC seems to have no position and is doing nothing. Like the UCT Executive, it is focusing on fee-related blocks for students unable to register. In its latest statement released via Sabelo Hadebe (BAC Secretary obo BAC) on 17 February 2022, it likens Phakeng-led UCT to Price-UCT: “Once again, history is repeating itself! A majority of students from working class families are facing a sad reality of financial exclusion at UCT”. It “stands in firm solidarity with the marginalized students and calls on the University Council to lift the fee block as a matter of urgency”.
This assertion bears little relation to reality. There is no excluded “majority of marginalized students”, and Council may not in good conscience be able to provide the financial resources to lift all fee blocks without significant input/collaboration from/by government.
It seems that the BAC/SRC’s ‘solution’ to the longstanding issue of historical debt is for “the SRC and the Executive to together put pressure on the National Treasury to fund higher education appropriately” by shutting down the academic project indefinitely. This is because the UCT “management is not proactively seeking ways to resolve this issue”, leaving the students “with no choice but to make demands that they [the BAC?] think will put pressure on management”.
Of course, this view has also bears no relation to reality.
Another BAC ‘solution’ to the alleged serious problem vis-à-vis student registration and curriculum advice services is to hire more admin staff. In the absence of funds generated from outstanding fees and a fair contribution from the corrupt (and educationally bankrupt?) government, they provide no ideas on where this money be sourced other than from “the University leadership”.
The BAC incorrectly states that the “current situation has already delayed the start of the academic year” and that UCT cannot realistically “restart once all affected students have had their administrative blocks removed and can attend classes”.
The reality is that the EFF-SC-led-SRC (guided by the BAC/EFF?) IS the ‘current situation’ bent on shutting down UCT until ALL its demands are met.
How is the SRC/BAC strategy different from the catastrophic intimidation/destruction/violence-based one employed by BAC-backed Fallists in 2015-2016?
Can UCT survive another such catastrophe?
But, in the meantime
What’s the position of the new DVC for Transformation and what’s she doing?
At the end of last year, UCT Council Chairperson Ngonyama “hailed” the “beautiful” appointment of Professor Elelwani Ramugondo as DVC for Transformation, Student Affairs and Social Responsiveness saying that it “created a feel-good, celebratory atmosphere”. She “is one of our own; she has risen through the ranks of our university from being a student to being a full professor, having obtained her BSc, MSc and PhD, DD qualifications in occupational therapy here”.
She also described DVC-elect Ramugondo as “ideally suited to connect UCT with [- and “serve” -] society”. She is an “expert” “new chief driver of transformation at UCT” who will “bring a wealth of experience and institutional knowledge to the task”, especially vis-a-vis “implementing UCT’s new employment equity plan”. She has a “long track record in numerous leadership roles in the transformation arena” including acting as special advisor on transformation to VC Price, chairing UCT’s Academic Freedom Committee and driving the process that generated UCT’s Curriculum Change Framework.
Ramugondo’s appointment “brings in the diversity we talk about”. “For us to be able to achieve our vision, we need to look at the institutional culture of our university” and have “people that are in touch with our society” “drive the right culture within the university”.
All I wish to say in this piece is that I am concerned that Prof. Ramugondo may not ‘transform’ the troika of Sisters into a more effective quartet supporting a non-racial Vision 2030. She is a founding member and past Chairperson of the Black Academic Caucus and has consistently taken racially motivated positions while acquiring her “wealth of experience and institutional knowledge”.
I will expand on this in another piece somewhat ‘more later’.
Finally, the appointed interim temporary DVC for Transformation was criticized last April by the BAC because he is a “recycled white [male] retiree roped in” and not a “member of an historically marginalized group”, this “endorses patriarchy and celebrates whiteness” at, and “perpetuates historical imbalances” within, UCT. Therefore, I am surprised that Professor Ramugondo deferred starting her tenure until 1 July 2022 after she completes study leave. Why not eject the inappropriate person and get on with the business of driving the right culture within UCT?