UCT Executive's response to Nicoli Nattrass concerning - Class of 1968

Archie Mafeje protest participants calls on council and senate to uphold academic freedom

Statement on Professor Nattrass by the University of Cape Town by the participants in the 1968 Mafeje protest at UCT

We - who participated in the 1968 protest at the racist treatment of Archie Mafeje by UCT - have sent this statement to the current Vice Chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng”

Dear Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

I am including a statement drawn up by the participants in the 1968 protest concerning Professor Nattrass.

We would be grateful if you would give it your consideration and bring it to the attention of staff and students, as well as the Senate and Council of the University.


Martin Plaut

Professor Nicoli Nattrass 

We are writing to you as members of the generation who took up the cause of Archie Mafeje in 1968, when we participated in the sit-in to protest at the University of Cape Town’s withdrawal of his appointment under pressure from the apartheid government. 

We are deeply concerned about the University’s response to the article published by Professor Nicoli Nattrass in the South African Journal of Science, the flagship journal of the Academy of Science of South Africa. 

In a statement of the 5th of June, the UCT executive said it “distances itself from the contents of the paper.” The executive then adopted a distinctly threatening tone towards the work of a distinguished member of its own staff, saying that it will “investigate the matter further.” This is particularly worrying when the statement describes Professor Nattrass’s paper as having “methodological and conceptual flaws that raise questions about the standards and ethics of research at UCT,” and makes this claim in the context of problems of racial prejudice. 

We make no judgement on the paper itself. That is something for Professor Nattrass’s peers. We endorse the position of the Academy of Science of South Africa when it said that it “upholds the academic freedom of any author to submit for publication the results of research in a scholarly journal subject, of course, to editorial review process and approval.” The Academy goes on to say – correctly – that the “appropriate forum for criticism is in the form of academic rebuttal by academic peers in and outside the pages of the journal.” 

The University of Cape Town has a proud record of standing up for the principles of academic freedom during apartheid; a principle that we continue to honour with the annual T. B. Davie Memorial Lecture. That this should be undermined by the University executive is a matter of profound regret. We call on the University Council and Senate to stand by and uphold this principle.  


Geoff Budlender SC

Professor Andrew Coleman

Madi Gray

Professor Adrian Guelk

Michael Hubbard

David Kaplan

Professor Raphie Kaplinsky

Michael Khan

Professor Mike Morris

Howard Philips

Martin Plaut

Mike Popham

Ian Scott

Michael Strelitz