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Written by: William Gild

On or about 29 March 2018, the University of Cape Town (UCT)’s Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (IRTC) granted amnesty to seven individuals, all of whom had been repeatedly sanctioned by the university for acts of violence, property damage (including arson), defilement of a number of buildings, and a statue, intimidation and violations of High Court interdicts.

The Commission, not satisfied with “clearing the UCT slate” of these individuals, and thereby allowing at least one of them to graduate in April, went even further by urging the university to approach the Director of Public Prosecutions to withdraw pending criminal charges against those of this group who had been arrested (at least one of them, on more than one occasion) in connection with alleged criminal acts committed during the rioting of the past 3 years.

It might be noted that one of the worthies thus “amnestied” promptly went on to create a disturbance during his graduation, which disturbance necessitated his being “ushered” from the stage.

The IRTC was birthed in November 2016, at the conclusion of marathon negotiations between a clutch of wholly unrepresentative violent, racist and unrepentant individuals, all of whom had occasioned great damage to UCT, both fiscally and reputationally.

The 6 November agreement was, in effect, negotiated at the barrel of a gun (metaphorically speaking). The university had been shuttered for many weeks, final examination time was drawing close, and campus was in chaos. Max Price, together with a few other senior administrators, actually had no choice but to accede to these individuals’ demands, for they knew full well that failure so to do would have resulted in the 2016 end of year examinations being aborted, with the inevitable financial, organizational and legal implications of such an event. And so they did.

A steering committee was established in early 2017 to establish the terms of reference of the Commission, as well as identify commissioners.

Throughout the steering committee’s meetings, a plethora of problems arose. At least one of the constituencies (alumni) was never consulted regarding the choice of representative. Other issues, gleaned from personal communications, occasional minutes, audiovisual recordings (almost invariably of appalling quality), and a report-back of the Senate representative, indicated a process (lasting almost a full year) characterized by tensions between the student representatives and others, an appalling lack of appropriate (no, one may not say civilized) behaviour by several of the student representatives and, most important, departures from what are universally recognized norms of proper procedure.

The initial meeting between the committee and the newly minted commissioners (24 February), during which non-members of the committee pitched up and had to have their say, was farcical (at best). It displayed a continuing rant of totally unrelated issues, new issues, and resembled not a serious gathering and orderly process which was meant to be a dignified, but, rather, an embarrassing display of enduring victimhood, poisonous hatred directed at the university in general, and Max Price, in particular. It was neither edifying, nor adult. Anyone who possessed the fortitude to sit through watching over two hours of the spectacle had to come away wondering whether they were watching a kindergarten performance, or a serious meeting of university students.

And so, it came to pass, not unexpectedly, that the commissioners, after only two days of deliberations and submissions by this motley bunch, forgave all.

They had no choice.

No one even remotely connected, or following, the tragic events of the past three years, would have known that had the commissioners declined to pardon this bunch of protesters, April graduation would not have been allowed to occur. Max Price certainly knew it, as did the commissioners, as did the steering committee. For, when events over the past three years clearly and unambiguously indicate a pattern of duplicity and manipulation, accompanied and reinforced by violence and resorting to ludicrous claims of racism at the university, there would be no reason to suspect that these individuals would suddenly see the light, or change their behaviour.

The entire process, from beginning to its ignominious end, is a stain on the reputation of UCT, its current leadership, the commissioners themselves, and all those who participated in this circus

The author laments the loss, over three years, of what used to be termed rational discourse, even heated debate, and its replacement by violence, dishonesty, and manipulation.

That these individuals represent a tiny minority of students is neither here nor there; they managed to terrorize the overwhelming majority of students, and bend the will of a feckless and naïve leadership to the extent that there can be only one end to this sorry saga.

Dr Gild is a retired anaesthetist and Advocate, having obtained his basic medical degree at UCT, and his law degree at Temple University in Philadelphia, USA. His family has studied, intermittently, at UCT from 1929 through to the present.