Wheeling and Dealing at UCT

Wheeling and dealing with and – maybe - dying from ‘systemic racism’, ‘anti-racism’, bullying and institutional toxicity at the University of Cape Town (UCT)?

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University of Cape Town UCT

Part 3: The low road, high road or the end of a road strewn with incinerated books and desecrated artwork and barricaded with burning motor vehicles.

This piece follows on from Part 2 which refuted the assertion that institutional bullying and toxicity at UCT were initiated by current Vice Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng and her ‘champion/gate-keeper’ Babalwa Ngonyama, the Chair of the UCT Council.

To recapitulate, in her own words Phakeng inherited an institution “in tatters” from VC Dr Max Price. During his time at UCT, he was resolutely supported by a team of steadfastly loyal appointees, an indecisive Senate and a malleable Council. Collectively, they were defamed unceasingly by Fallist students and an EFF-SC-dominated SRC (backed – manipulated? – by their academic mentors in the Black Academic Caucus) for ignoring the needs of Black students and academic staff and maintaining a systemically racist, pro-White, commodified institution.

For example, in a public intellectual article entitled The Day of the Jekyll, Assoc. Prof. Imraan Coovadia characterized Price as embodying “two personalities – one rational and benevolent [Jekyl], while the other is irrational and undecipherable [Hyde]” – “practising tokenism without the tokens” and having a “genius for spreading confusion” and “present[ing] a number of additional arguments of stunning implausibility”. He also implied that the Price Team encouraged students and others to denounce Black staff for various improprieties and then hide behind anonymity. Last but not least, Coovadia stated (without any evidence) that Black professors were expected to have sterling qualifications (e.g. an NRF A-rating), and that their ad hominem promotion could take two decades of high performance to achieve. Whites, on the other hand, could become professors after less than15 years’ service and only have a C-rating.

Partnering Coovadia in defamation, Assoc. Professor Xolela Mangcu, argued further (Business Day 3 November 2014). He debunked the use of measurable criteria for ad hominem promotion, claiming that he could ”smell that talent from a distance”. He also condemned Price’s open letter to the UCT Community supporting a new, non-racial, student admission policy based primarily on socio-economic oppression. Mangcu described it as “a slight of hand” intended to “condition” the university community to accept his recommendations. Moreover, because it is “a predominantly white structure”, UCT’s Senate would “rule in their own favour” [i.e. against Blacks] on this matter”, a bit like the “wolves [UCT professors] inviting the lambs [Black students] over for dinner.”

In short, Price was a two-faced, populist bully and a conman who ran a white-supremacist, ‘show-me-the-money’ toxic university aided and abetted by a Senate “slaughterhouse”.

The Price Strategy

Faced with this bullying, the Price Team took the ‘low road’ and initially attempted to placate their critics. When that failed and the faeces literally ‘hit the fan’, he and his leadership team kowtowed to Fallist students and the Black Academic Caucus. They multiply capitulated to demands and granted miscreants seemingly endless pardons/amnesties while UCT was barricadeda, shut-down and burning and her academics (branded as racists) and students (as ‘coconuts’) cowered in their offices and lecture theatres or just fled from campus.

One female maths lecturer was a prominent early victim of alleged multiple assaults by Founding Fallist, Chumani Maxwele (see here and here). He made his position on UCT’s decolonization crystal clear: “Decolonisation must happen through violence.” “I don’t have to justify anything to a white male or a white institution. Nothing whatsoever.”

Maxwele was accused of barraging the lecturer with hate speech, stating (witnessed by two others) inter alia:

  1. that she was “a white woman who takes all the rights of the black students”;
  2. “the statue fell; now it’s time for all whites to go”; and
  3. “We must not listen to whites, we do not need their apologies, they have to be removed from UCT and have to be killed.”

In the wake of the alleged assault:

  1. UCT had a Trellidor-like structure affixed to the lecturer’s office door and hired a guard to protect her.
  2. Despite this security, Maxwele harassed her twice further.
  3. The two witnesses of the original assault became wary of testifying for fear of intimidation.
  4. The lecturer was pressed by Price and his representatives to enter into ‘reconciliation’ with her attacker.

Maxwele was never held accountable for this abuse and seems to be continuing (while registered as Masters student) along the same path.

When asked about intervention by the Ombud, the lecturer said:

“Yes, I had to deal with the Ombud around the case with Maxwele. She never reacted in the manner that she supposed to do as an independent person at UCT. She always supported her employers- Max Price and UCT in general. So, I do not trust any one of them and I do not support them.”

In the end, the lecturer retired and left South Africa.

When capitulation to Fallism still wasn’t enough, Price chose to negotiate with protesters. But, he chose not to deal with elected members of the UCT Students’ Representative Council or their Parliament, but rather with a highly radical ‘constituency’ of nine Fallists to set up a commission that, in the end, granted unconditional amnesty to self-admitted and unapologetic Fallist criminals, produced no agreement as to the limits of violent student protest and endorsed an evidence-free claim that UCT was rife with institutional racism.

Then, soon after handing his reluctant successor Phakeng an institutional ‘hospital pass’, Price arguably showed a third ‘face’ and co-authored an evidence-based scientific paper that concluded that racism and sexism do not impede ad hominem promotion at UCT.

 What happened to Coovadia and Mangcu?

Soon after they were promoted to full professor, both seemed to moderate their support for radical Fallism. Coovadia even published a critique of the destructive ‘Shackville Protests’ of February 2016 in the New York Times.

Mangcu felt the full wrath of Fallists when he refused to accede to demands of Fallist students to eject “White’ oppressors” from a lecture by literary giant Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o.

In subsequent commentaries, he was branded by them as:

  1. “nothing more than a liberal who holds dearly the notion of a bilateral approach, involving both black and white in dismantling a white capitalist patriarchal society”;
  2. an “imitation of his master treating radical black student intellectuals as perpetual under-16s” using “condescending and anti-black rhetoric”;
  3. a “pseudo-intellectual with many accolades who wallows in contradictions and massages and tip toes around whiteness”;
  4. “a house negro” who “pleases his Maasta” and “remain[s] a ka**ir to [his] white baas”; and
  5. ”an “opportunist who uses the black struggle for upward mobility within academia” while he “pleases his Maasta”; assumes the “defeated psyche of a slave” who, “no matter how many decolonial lectures”, “remain[s] a ka**ir to [his] white baas.”

Mangcu castigated these Fallists for their lack of respect. Their “disrespect for the elders [him and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o] was an unforgivable sin” and “Decolonisation that assaults African values is not worth its salt.” Soon thereafter, he resigned from UCT and moved to the USA.

VC Phakeng’s high road?

After taking the helm in mid-2018, the new VC quickly embarked on a ‘high road’, developing a new institutional strategy that culminated in the non-racial Vision 2030. She challenged the university to take a critical view of itself by defining excellence, transformation and sustainability as interdependent pillars essential to: “Unleashing human potential to create a fair and just society”.

By 2020, the Vision 2030 Planning Team had developed an initial document emanating from consultation and collaboration with close to 100 staff members from across the academic, and the professional, administrative support and service (PASS) departments. They, in turn, interacted with approximately 3 500 staff members who represented cross-functional teams and working groups.

UCT’s Senate and Council overwhelmingly endorsed Vision 2030 and VC Phakeng made it clear that she was implacably determined to implement it.

A ‘roadblock’?

Sadly, some Price-appointees inherited by Phakeng (e.g. Ombud Zetu Makamandela-Mguqulwa, Transformation DVC Prof. Loretta Feris, Teaching & Learning DVC Assoc. Prof. Lis Lange and Executive Director Dr Russell Ally?) appear to have tried maintain Price’s pro-Fallist, anti-racial, ‘low road’ strategy. For more on this see here, Part 1 and Part 2. This generated clashes between them and Phakeng and, in the end, resulted in their departure from their posts.

As outlined in a series of pieces published by Daily Maverick, the case of Lis Lange in particular has been extensively discussed/debated in UCT’s Senate and Council. In the end, Council decided to launch an internal investigation conducted by a panel of eminent independent assessors into governance and procedural matters related to Phakeng and Council Chair Babalwa Ngonyama’s roles in Lange’s departure. Assuming that this investigation will transparently cover the full spectrum of the clashes between Phakeng/Ngonyama and Price-Era appointees and their ramifications, UCT’s Senate, Students’ Representative Council and, ultimately, UCT’s Council will have to decide which ‘road’ to follow.

My view

UCT is now appears to be an out-and-out institutional disaster rife with racism. Without rapid, major remedial action, She could quickly deteriorate further and become a disgraced, second-rate university. Although the roots of the causes of what ails Her stretch back to the 1980s, the key actions/inactions began in 2012 during the VC-ship of consultant Dr Max Price when he and his team failed to fully implement the non-racial undergraduate admissions policy developed by Neville Alexander and Crain Soudien. This inaction paved the way for the steep low road that was ‘deconstructed’ (sensu Derrida) between 2015 and 2018.

The institutional crisis became crystal clear in 2016 when CHED Dean Prof. Suellen Shay commented on the invasion of the AGM of UCT’s Convocation by abusive, profane and half-naked Fallists and their suppression of discussion on how the Price-led UCT was dealing with intimidation, violence and destruction.

She concluded that the invasion:

“revealed how hard UCT must work in the coming years to encourage dissent and debate; how important it is for academics and other members of university communities to step out of their comfort zones and listen to views with which they bitterly disagree. Now, more than ever, universities must engage the chaos that has become their new reality.”

For a different perspective on what actually happened at the AGM read Nathan Geffen’s commentary and my and others’ letters of clarification appended to it.

Not only did Price engage the chaos, he embraced it and its “New Reality”!

With regard to the current VC, I still believe that, when she assumed office, eminent (NRF B-rated) mathematics educationalist and Professor Phakeng wanted to constructively transform UCT along non-racial lines through her Team’s Vision 2030 without compromising Afro-centric excellence in favour of pseudo-Europeanism. This goal required shifting power back ‘uphill’ from the corporate managers in Bremner Administration Building to the educators, knowledge hungry students and innovative researchers who made and maintain UCT Africa’s premier really REAL university in the sense of Price’s and Phakeng’s predecessor VC Professor Thomas B. Davie.

However and very sadly, Phakeng’s sense of urgency and her ‘do-your-job’, ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ style of management alienated recalcitrant people essential to achieving that goal. The recent resignation of admin keystone, Registrar Royston Pillay, is for me an irretrievable loss.

Moreover, when attacked by radical destructive decolonist elements within and without UCT, Phakeng was unable to hold them accountable and/or challenge them to unfettered rational debate. Her enemies now traverse the full racial and ideological spectrum of UCT’s community. Her allies, outside of highly loyal, Fallist-silenced, Black students, are few.

In short, Phakeng’s inability to gain the respect of – and unite – key people or lead a well-coordinated team necessary to put her vision into effect has fatally wounded her administration.

Therefore, tragically, she should accept the New Reality and quietly resign.

However, I fear that she will go down fighting for her Vision 2030.

Read Part 4 for my ‘end-of-the-road’ scenario.

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1 comment

  1. Mpho Tladi Reply

    Let me be the first to respond here to this. This piece seems like an endorsement of the ‘status quo’ while this isn’t obvious one can see that it muzzles down the issue of transformation into a focus on sideshows and administrative quarrels. I wish Prof Crowe could shed more light on Vision 2030 and what it entails instead of glamorising a still born 2012 ‘non-racial undergraduate admissions policy’. Has the Prof even engaged the Vision 2030?

    It looks like this piece leans more towards preserving the very pseudo European nature of UCT it so dismally tries to condemn.

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