Who is Chumani Maxwele? (Part 1)

Fallist movement founder Chumani Maxwele: who is he and why has he received deferential treatment by leaders of the University of Cape Town? Part 1: birth to April 2015. What do we know about the alleged finger-flicking, faeces-flinging, arrogant, denigrating, bullying, academically deficient, racially bigoted,...

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Fallist movement founder Chumani Maxwele: who is he and why has he received deferential treatment by leaders of the University of Cape Town? Part 1: birth to April 2015.

What do we know about the alleged finger-flicking, faeces-flinging, arrogant, denigrating, bullying, academically deficient, racially bigoted, misogynist, arsonist and ‘paleo-undergraduate student’ potential murderer(?) Chumani Maxwele?

The ‘prequel’

Maxwele was born in 1985 in the Eastern Cape and is the son of a domestic worker and a miner. He relocated to Delft, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town notorious for its high levels of HIV/AIDS, crime, unemployment, and dysfunctional schools.

He described his initial employment as an assistant at Woolworths supermarket and Exclusive Books as demeaning.

These ‘negative’ experiences made him ”more and more angry”.

On 10 February 2010, Maxwele was arrested by South African presidential body guards for giving the finger to Jacob Zuma’s presidential motorcade. He claimed to have been “bullied” overnight by members of the South African Police Services. With support from the F.W. de Klerk Foundation, he lodged a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission. He sued Police Minister Mthethwa for R1.4 million and demanded an apology; but apparently settled for R80,000 and an apology. While this was happening, his lawyer who worked on a contingency basis, unexpectedly withdrew from the case.

Why? Was there ever a settlement? How much was he paid? What did Maxwele do with any money paid out?

University of Cape Town (UCT)

Later that year, despite this largesse, he was awarded a scholarship to study at UCT. After seven years of generally unsuccessful study, Maxwele was awarded a three-year bachelor’s degree. Despite this less-than-stellar performance, apparently, he has been allowed to continue studying at UCT in 2018. Who has paid his fees, assuming that a seven-year scholarship was not warranted?

Even if he has a ‘benefactor’, how can this extended association be justified on academic grounds, even without consideration of his outrageous behaviour chronicled below?

The March 2015 ‘Blitzkrieg’

On 9 March 2015, Maxwele sounded the death-knell of constructive transformation at UCT, favouring potentially destructive, politically and racially driven ‘decolonization’. He staged lawbreaking defacement of the little-loved statue of notorious Cecil John Rhodes, smearing it with human faeces and urine transported from portable toilets that characterize local largely ‘black’ townships.

Rhodes’ statue was unveiled at UCT in 1934 in a relatively inconspicuous site in Middle Campus. Afrikaner students formally demanded its removal in the 1950s when it was moved to the foot of Jameson Hall stairs. It engendered painful memories derived from the deaths of 26,000+ aged, female, and infant Afrikaners in British concentration camps during the South African War and their scorched-earth conquest. A similar number of ‘black’ people died in segregated camps.

A dozen students, journalists and television reporters were invited to the statue’s defacement. After this illegal act, Maxwele said:

“How do you decolonise Africa? Fanon made it clear. Decolonisation must happen through violence. I think it is highly unlikely South Africa can avoid this.”

“I don’t have to justify anything to a white male or a white institution.  Nothing whatsoever”.

He compared himself to a young Nelson Mandela who faced the brutal Verwoerd-led Apartheid regime, describing himself as a “young [30 at the time], intelligent critical thinker” who “welcomes discourse” and “is open to debate”.

Acting VC Prof Sandra Klopper “condemned” Maxwele’s “reprehensible” actions,  and assured UCT’s Community that decisive action would be taken. Maxwele was further charged for assaulting a security officer.

Klopper’s assurance was not delivered on by former Rhodes Scholar VC Dr Max Price. The assault charge never resulted in a disciplinary hearing, let alone a court case.

Initially, Maxwele’s vulgar act was tolerated, even welcomed, by many who had yearned for meaningful consultation and decisive transformation relating to ‘offensive’ symbols.

Sadly, the transformational process was commandeered by politically/racially motivated fallists-in-waiting with broader decolonization demands. Their intentions were made obvious on 16 March at a seminar “Heritage, signage and symbolism” chaired by transformation DVC Crain Soudien when they choreographically undermined proceedings. In ensuing discussion, a black student asked: “How can we engage when we are intimidated and treated like criminals?” Soudien asked: “Is this [institutional racism] really true?”

UCT Executive Director Russell Ally commented tellingly: “Whether it’s true or not is not an issue.”

Things came to a head on 20 March.

Price described fallists as a “critical mass of people who think the time [after seven years led by Price] has come”, and “applauded them for bringing transformation issues into focus”. However, he promised that “no-one would be left behind”.

Remember this promise.

On the same day, the UCT Student Parliament stated:

“We will no longer accept the terms of engagement, on issues of transformation specifically, being dictated to us. The management of the university is often guilty of this. The power dynamics of the university are such that it is in a context of a structure which perpetuates racism. It is time for the management of the university to listen.”

The fallists reiterated this position later when they invaded and occupied the Bremner Administration Building, renaming it ‘Azania House’.

Still later that evening, at a University Assembly in a jam-packed Jameson Hall set up to discuss the removal of Rhodes’ statue, a small group of ”well-organised” fallists hijacked the meeting, displacing the UCT representative, Convocation President Barney Pityana. They “implement[ed] a carefully-prepared plan”, presenting their unequivocal message through a range of speakers. ‘Black’ students are fed up with “years and years” of pleading with an “un-caring and un-listening”, “bureaucratically incompetent”, “commodified” Executive who evaded consultation concerning transformation. Representative comments by fallists:

“This varsity doesn’t care about you; it’s not going to help you; and it’s not going to listen to you.”

“Max Price and his management team have failed you.”

A student, who only identified himself as Ezra, pointed at Price, while screaming repeatedly: “Blood on your hands!”

“For many years, my multitude of emails, letters, affidavits to Price have been ignored”.

There was little discussion of odious Rhodes. Indeed, fallists suppressed results of a Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment poll on whether or not the statue should be moved. Nearly half of those eligible voted, 60% against the removal of the statue.  Similar results were announced for informal surveys in faculties of Science and Commerce.

So much for “leaving no one behind”.

April Fools

On 9 April, Rhodes’ statue was removed with undignified fanfare. The statue was defaced and fallists shouted, amongst other hate speech, “One settler, one bullet”. Price said: ”We will investigate charges against them [the miscreants].” Moreover, non-SRC-connected fallists reneged on their commitment to vacate ‘Azania House’ after the statue’s removal.

There is no evidence of any investigation, let alone of disciplinary action.

That evening, SRC President Mahapa spoke on transformation to the UCT Association of Black Alumni on transformation. Key quotes:

“Our integration is nothing but ‘black’ people assimilating to what is still regarded as righteous, ordained, intelligent, beautiful and angelic whiteness.”

“Blacks are still seen as merely appendages to a ‘white’ society.”

“Our path leads only to despondency and destitution.”

“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 [black’ liberals] who will take every opportunity to ridicule blacks who speak of the problem of racism; they claim that class is the issue.”

“Black folks must rid themselves of the ulcer called assimilation; we need to eliminate the need to assimilate in any way, shape or form to whiteness because we are perpetuating our own oppression and the destruction of our humanity. Unity amongst blacks is a necessary first step and the goal is self-determination towards the creation of an independent African society.”

Maxwele’s initial actions were discussed on 15 April at a meeting of the UCT Convocation, illegally attended by Maxwele. Price said he was unable to take action against Maxwele because he had used excrement to deface Rhodes’ statue. Had he used paint, he could and would have been prosecuted. Price further stated that, should Maxwele re-offend, he would take “decisive action”. But, within a matter of days, Price granted blanket amnesty to Maxwele and other hate-speaking fallists who, on 8 April, had violently invaded a special meeting of UCT’s Council, shouting: “One settler, one bullet”.

Price’s amnesty  was granted “in the spirit” of “restorative justice”, which is, by definition, supposed to “repair the harm caused by crime by involving meetings between victims, offenders and community members”, emphasizing “accountability and making amends”.

There were no meetings attended by fallists and victims (e.g. polled science/engineering/commerce students) at which there was discussion of lawbreaking. Matters were ‘settled’ by the UCT Executive. Maxwele and now full-blown fallists made no amends and were not held accountable.

Price and Council Chairman Archbishop Ndungane, an anti-apartheid activist imprisoned with Mandela, issued the following statement regarding the process:

“This process has been vindicated by the number of people who have come into the debates opposed to removing the statue and who have changed their minds as a result of the frank engagement. This is exactly how a university should work and we believe is an example to the country in dealing with heritage issues.”

What “people”? What “debates”? What “engagement”? What “dealing”?

More in part 2.

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