This is an e-mail to a colleague at the University of Cape Town who complained about the absence of ‘whites’ in the forthcoming Students Representative Council (SRC) election – describing them as ‘gutless’.  My position is that the ‘race’ of the candidates is of no consequence.  The real problem is that 90% of the candidates apparently are apparatchiks of PASMA, SASCO or the EFF, and thus not seeking office (let alone tertiary education) with open minds.

Dear …..,

You need not “beg to disagree” with my views on candidates for SRC election.  We simply disagree.  That’s what should be happening on a regular basis on our ‘horrible Moscow on the hill’.  The reality is that, 60 years ago, Vice Chancellor TB Davie stated, and, two decades later, ‘Prof’ Robert Sobukwe and Science Faculty Dean ‘Jack’ de Wet reiterated that, South Africa is an “African” country and UCT’s community must reflect that in their ‘lived experiences’.  Simply using the ‘race’ (or any other indefensible self-identity) criterion to achieve the necessary transformation is biologically meaningless, socially immoral and, especially, socio-politico-economically fruitless.

During the 1950-60s, UCT missed the super tanker (not just the boat) when it failed to back AC Jordan and literally betrayed Archie Mafeje.

During the 1970s, VC Luyt et al. failed to take cognisance of the Black Consciousness Movement and heed (let alone embrace) the pleas of ‘transformers’ like the young Geoff Budlender. This dismissal embittered Budlender, sending him and many other towards the pathway of radical transformation of UCT. This has culminated in today’s extreme fallists and others who are little more than hateful, hooligan anarchists, bent on ‘racial’ isolationism and destructive decolonization.

Then, also in retrospect, the generally highly admirable VC Saunders made several great mistakes during his administration.

From the early 1980s, he (perhaps on the advice of Martin Hall) ‘outsourced’ Chris Brink’s brilliant idea for academic support for Bantu-educated ‘black’ students to employ largely short-term contracted within an Academic Support Programme (ASP), neophyte lecturers led by centralized ‘educators’ with little or no experience in academic support.  Saunders should have shunted the funds/posts to core departments and, if necessary, forced their academics to adapt what they teach, how they teach and how they conduct research to embrace the needs of appropriate numbers of these kids. (This, in no way, should be interpreted as “dumbing down” the educational process and “lowering” academic standards.  It required a well-thought out, strategic, punctual transformation.)  Moreover, the academics in the then-Faculty of Education should have been at least drawn into the process, if not required to taking the lead. At best, they remained at the periphery.

Instead of nurturing these knowledge-hungry kids, UCT marginalized them into the ‘special’ gap-filling, slow-streamed programmes.  Had this opportunity been grasped then, we’d have many more competent (if not brilliant), Afro-relevantly educated ‘black’ academics so desperately needed now. Furthermore, their contemporary ‘white’, ‘coloured’ and ‘Asian’ colleagues in training would now be leading the university side by side with them and be far better attuned to the needs of today’s far-worse-off kids, much more poorly ‘prepared’ by the current totally dysfunctional Basic Education system.

When the ASP strategy failed, Saunders pumped more money into it, made many of the failed (yes, there are noteworthy exceptions) contract lecturers permanent, and then (under VC Ramphele) morphed it into an even more useless ‘faculty’ – Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED).

Current leaders of CHED will try to counter this argument by focusing on their limited successes.  But, the bottom-line is that ASP/ADP/CHED has not promoted the timeous and high-quality education and subsequent career success of Apartheid- (and now ANC-) oppressed ‘nie-blankes’, especially ‘blacks’.

While this was happening, the now-downgraded School of Education ceased to educate undergraduate teachers, contributing to the current dearth of outstanding school teachers and, especially, principals. With regard to teacher training, this is restricted to bachelor’s graduates or unemployable Ph.Ds, many of whom are not appropriately basically educated in their disciplines or see teaching as a ‘Plan B’.

At the same time, back in core departments like yours and mine, perhaps in an attempt to produce the next generation of academic ‘heroes’ with high NRF ratings, curricula became biased towards educating more specialized bachelors/honours graduates, better suited for continued post-graduate research than to become school teachers. This culled most of the remaining ‘nie-blanke’ kids from the system who carried the academic impedimenta from the Apartheid era.

Then Saunders let the politicians populate and start to control UCT by capitulating to the ANC-led academic boycott when he cancelled Cruise-Obrien’s lecture series. This laid the first paving stones of the path leading to the current toxic Students Representative Council and Black Academic Caucus situations.

While all this was happening, after their academic support ceased, these educationally-marginalized and still ‘disabled’ kids were thrown into the academic ‘deep end’ and taught in an “ego-centrifugally” manner by NRF-rating hungry people who were ill-equipped to cater for their needs and deficiencies.  Hence, most of them ‘sank’.

Equally harmful was Saunders’ probably inadvertent development of the ‘central committee’ at Bremner. This started the process of what has been described as hyper-centralized ‘managerialsim’, emasculating academic leadership within departments and faculties.  As outlined in a report “Matters pertaining to heads of academic departments at the University of Cape Town” by former science faculty dean, Cliff Moran, published in 2007, this process dates back to the 1990s.

Then came VC Ramphele. She developed some of Saunders’ many achievements: restructuring faculties, demanding academic excellence across the board, resisting the ‘basification’ of undergraduate education and resolutely dealing with sexism and general ‘indecent behaviour’ (including impractical demands for academic transformation) by students.  She also accelerated the recruitment of ‘nie-blanke’ academics like Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan. But, then again, she was a big fan of the malicious Mahmood Mamdani who clashed with malevolent ‘Old Boys’ like Martin Hall. Sadly, as outlined in the Moran Report, she also put the pedal to the metal with regard to managerialism.

If Ramphele had stayed as VC for a decade, there may have been rapid, progressive, meaningful transformation (including constructive decolonization and ‘inclusivication’).

Then came VC Ndebele, a brilliant and kind man bent on academic ‘peace’ and political correctness. He embraced massification (with inadequate financial and other support), promoted Bremner ‘managerialism, and allowed the introgression of radical left-wingers into Council and the academic emasculation of Senate. He commissioned, but took no action on, the Moran Report and lost an enormous opportunity to heal UCT when Brian Hahn was brutally murdered by a disgruntled affirmative action employee (now an associate professor at University of Limpopo). He effectively laid the logs on the hearth for the current conflagration.

Then came VC Price, the populist transformational Messiah. For the first six years of his reign, he mimicked Ndebele, providing the kindling for the conflagration.  He made no significant efforts with regard to adaptive transformation, pandering as a multifaceted populist to all sides.  When the faeces inevitably literally hit the fan, he jumped ship to the fallists, abandoning the “silenced” multi-‘racial’ majority to fend for themselves.  If this were not enough he’s set in motion a chaotic IRTC-process. While it, at best, limps along, he supports: formal recognition by UCT of the Broederbond-like Black Academics Caucus; the advertisement of the Mafeje Chair (restricted to a black South African who professes Critical Theory; and inviting Mahmood Mamdani (who described a UCT curriculum as “Bantu Education”) to give the TB Davie Lecture on Academic Freedom.

With regard to ‘white’ and (you fail to mention) non-fallist, political-party-independent, ‘nie-blanke’ students not having “the guts” to challenge for seats on the SRC, maybe we should also look to the Democratic Alliance (I’m copying this to the DA’s Belinda Bozzoli) and current academics (especially professors) for their displays of courage.  Their silence is deafening.

Ultimately, what is going on at UCT is not ‘blacks’ vs ‘whites’.  It’s about:

  1. admitting large numbers of educationally ‘disabled’ students who are not adequately supported financially and neglected by UCT’s administration;
  2. core faculties/schools/departments and academics who evaded (and still evade) appropriately educating these kids;
  3. these kids feeling marginalized by the people who should be educating them and treated shabbily by ‘outsourced’ academics and uncaring administrators;
  4. illegitimate ‘protesters’ (students/staff/outsiders) who care nothing for anything (least of all oppressed/’disabled’ students) other than destroying UCT without offering any viable (let alone preferable) alternative solutions;
  5. demoralized staff and students who just want to engage in unfettered education and research;
  6. radical, left-wing staff/students/councillors/administrators who want to dictate whom to admit/employ/promote within UCT and what should be taught and how to teach; and
  7. centralized all-powerful administrators who are bent on creating a ‘pluriversity’ populated by academics who are “organic intellectuals” and not internationally respected scholars.

If the nefarious individuals mentioned above have their way – bye bye UCT.  To stop them, concerned academics, students, alumni and donors need to take conjoint action.  UCT will not “weather this storm”.  The “buck’ has to stop somewhere.  Invoking racial ‘unity’ has nothing to do with this.

Professor Tim Crowe is a descendant of oppressed Irish freedom-fighters from the United States working class. He is a first generation university graduate, non-settler immigrant alumnus, Elected Fellow and emeritus (40 years’ service) professor at the University of Cape Town. He is a Ph.D.-educated expert on evolutionary biology (covering everything from ‘race’ to deeply rooted evolutionary trees) and conservation biology (especially regarding sustainable and economically viable use of wildlife). He has published nearly 300 peer-reviewed scientific papers/books and is regarded as the world’s leading authority on game birds (chickens, turkeys, guinea fowls, etc.). About 70 of his graduated students have published their research and established themselves in their own right, including four professors.