COMMENT

Where does UCT's Black Academic Caucus really stand?

Tim Crowe responds to that organisation's statement on the Fallist protests at the university

WHAT DOES THE UNIVERSITY OF CAPE TOWN (UCT) BLACK ACADEMIC CAUCUS STAND FOR AND WHAT HAS IT DELIVERED?

I wish to comment on the UCT Black Academic Caucus (BAC) statement on the intimidation, violence, destruction, ‘negotiations’, ‘decolonization’ and institutional racism at UCT in the order that items are presented.

Given the reality that different South African universities have profoundly differing histories and current issues of contention, requiring a national multi-stakeholder solution is certain to delay progress massively.   Therefore, it could be more effective to have both a national and multiple local discussions designed to address pandemic and locally peculiar challenges.

Yes, the increasing securitisation is repugnant.  But, what other viable option for continued education/research is there if a small core of violent and destructive ‘protesters’ are, in fact, resolutely determined to stop the academic process regardless of results of multiple, seemingly endless ‘negotiations’?  If the BAC is serious in condemning goalless protest in general and violence and destruction in particular, it should help to identify its perpetrators and counsel them. 

If they persist in their unlawful activities, the BAC should support their arrest, detention, fair adjudication and, if necessary, punishment.  If it has credibility with genuine (seeking pragmatic short/medium/long-term transformational solutions) protesters, designated and protester-acceptable BAC representatives should be sitting side-by-side with elected protesters (empowered to negotiate) in negotiations with university executives and the government.

If there are BAC representatives at the current negotiations, please reveal their identities.  If the BAC fails to participate actively while the massive “silenced” majority (encompassing all self-identified groups - unrepresented in ‘negotiations’) is prevented from legitimate association, study and research, it creates the impression that the BAC condones intimidation of ‘others’ and the shutting down of UCT.

Much mention is made about the need to “decolonise” UCT.  However, what does “decolonisation” actually mean other than expurgation of putatively ‘offensive’ elements from curricula and the academic community?  What makes ideas ‘offensive’ beyond the gender, age, ‘race’ and geographical provenance of their promoters?  Who are the ‘crypto-colonist’ staff members that perpetuate them? 

What are the suppressed primordial, Afrocentric ideas that can withstand unfettered critical debate?  Even more important, what are the new ideas/approaches that will deliver solutions that will eradicate the long-standing socio-economic oppression of vast numbers of South Africans?  Perhaps I’m ill-informed.  If so, reveal the extant, relevant literature sources that promote the “development of decolonial thinking and practices”.

Much mention is made about ‘white’-on-‘black’ (I abhor the need to use these descriptors) “institutional racism” at UCT.  However, where are the exposés revealing it and its perpetrators?  The only alleged instances that I am aware of were dismissed after adjudication in mutually agreed-upon procedures.  In fact, one of the alleged accusers was sanctioned for defamation and instructed to apologize formally.  The other has steadfastly refused to subject himself to adjudication for ‘reverse racism’. There is no way that racism at UCT, or anywhere else, can be identified and dealt with unless it is demonstrated to occur. 

I understand that the BAC was founded in 2012.  Please provide names and contact information for key members who are willing to engage with others outside the group, especially regarding “teaching, learning and the curriculum; staffing; research & postgraduate issues; and media & communications”.   I have contacted putative BAC members on such matters, but have been rebuffed or have received no reply.  Could the secretariat of the BAC publicize the results of its “important and unique initiatives”, especially those that relate to the Fallist movements. This will confirm the BAC’s status as “an authoritative voice” within UCT.

The Statement chronicles the BAC’s participation in “many student meetings and plenaries, participat[ion] in meetings with UCT management and important mediating role between students and faculty on the various campuses where occupations are taking place”.  What are the deliverables that resulted from these interactions?

If the Fallists and BAC are correct in describing their Movements as spontaneous unstructured uprisings, why does the ‘Father’ of Fallism, Chumani Maxwele, describe them as “political projects” in his letter published in the Sunday Independent on 21 August 2016 in which he “identified” (but really didn’t) racists at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and “documented” their acts?  Why does the BAC call for “a political solution to protest activity” that will “harness political energies toward the ends of transformation”?  Please dissect the political elements (and sponsors) of the Movements from those that will lead to ‘adaptive decolonization’.

Calls for “focusing on a restorative justice approach” are admirable.  However, restorative justice requires perpetrators of unlawful acts to: admit to them; show remorse; and interact constructively with the ‘victims’.  All that has been publicized on this are demands from ‘negotiators’ for rescinding action taken against lawbreakers.  There has been no mention of admission (or ‘contextualization’) of guilt, let alone showing remorse.  Indeed, some of the perpetrators continue to act unlawfully.  Can the BAC comment on this?

Why should it be necessary of the UCT Executive and deans to “instruct” members of the BAC “to resume academic activities”?  Given the position that the “BAC does not support the call for a continued shutdown of the university” and are “invested in our students and committed to seeing them complete their studies, now or in the future”, are they refusing to pursue their vocations over the next weeks because of the necessity of the “presence of police and private security” to prevent intimidation, destruction and unbridled violence?  If BAC members violate their contractual obligations, are they not creating “consequences of an extended closure of our universities [that] are likely to be devastating for all students”?

It is the suppression of unfettered debate, censorship of ideas/artwork, verbal/physical intimidation, reprehensible violence/destruction (including arson) and endless ‘non-negotiation’ culminating in ‘renegation’ that “appears to have become the ‘new normal’ at UCT.

If “black students and staff are being monitored more closely and in some instances being targeted”, let’s have the names of the victims and their testimony against perpetrators.

How does the extremely reluctant decision by the UCT Executive to employ the use of limited (clearly insufficient), fire-arm-free security personnel supplemented (also reluctantly) by (also inadequate) live-ammunition-free police constitute the “militarisation of our campus”?  Both the Executive and supervising police have said vociferously and repeatedly that UCT will not become another Marikana. 

Describing UCT campuses as warzones only enflames the situation.  It’s been security personnel that have been attacked and hospitalized. It’s the anarchist elements of the protesters (probably not even members of UCT’s Community) that have perpetrated the “violence, destruction of property or intimidation”.  It’s the impoverished taxpayers that have to foot the bill for the damage.

Why does the BAC describe itself as having to “continue to fight for a new university”?  Does this mean that they sanction the Fallist’s rejection of discussion and debate?  Is the formal creation of a caucuses/groups/platforms/movements based on “race, disability, gender, sexuality, age, nationality, or ethnicity” necessary at UCT or anywhere? 

Once again, the BAC calls for a “national restorative approach” but does not require lawbreakers to show remorse.  It describes, but nowhere documents “criminalisation of student protesters, the racial profiling of black students and black staff”.

It uses the inflammatory term “epistemic violence” when describing “everyday discourses and debates”, when, in fact, it’s the Fallists who refuse to engage.

Maybe “Rainbowism” is not the solution. However, isolation of the ‘self-identified’ within exclusionary “safe places” within which they endlessly expound on dogma is much worse.

In the end, academics mainly expose students to hopefully conflicting (potentially viable) ideas and solutions to intellectual and real-world problems.  It’s up to the students to forage through this matrix and come up with their own ideas and solutions, often new ones generated by debating amongst themselves.

Emeritus Prof. Tim Crowe