This is a commentary on Mr Chumani Maxwele’s expurgated letter published in the Sunday Independent (SI) on 21 August 2016 in which he announced that he would “identify” racists at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and “document” their acts. This is potentially great news since, as he maintains, it could contribute to “the spirit of fighting racism at UCT”. I have called for such exposés time-and-again.
Unfortunately, this letter did neither.
However, in a much longer, unexpurgated Facebook post on the same day, Maxwele did reveal names of people accused of racism by UCT Sociology Prof. Xolela Mangcu.
Mangcu’s allegations stem from a “war of words” around a dispute that began in January 2016 about lecturing duties. Mangcu chronicles this publicly in two of his weekly commentaries published by SI (see here and here).
In his ‘fictional’ commentary “Different times, same old Rhodes”, the primary racist is “Mary Rhodes”. The dispute degenerated into a department-wide disagreement outlined in part in widely circulated e-mails to which Maxwele refers.
This culminated in one of Mangcu’s targets filing a formal grievance against Mangcu, soon followed by counter-grievances by Mangcu against the complainant and two other UCT academics.
On 4 September 2016, SI published a subsequent letter from Elijah Moholola (officially representing UCT) that reveals one of those branded as racist by Mangcu: Prof. Nicoli Nattrass (also in UCT’s Department of Sociology).
UCT’s letter ends as follows: “Fighting racism is a noble act. Accusing individuals blindly and publicly without evidence is not.”
UCT’s letter also summarizes the conclusions of a mutually agreed upon (by Mangcu and Nattrass) “stage 3” UCT grievance procedure relating to Mangcu’s grievances against Nattrass and two other UCT academics. The adjudicator nominated by UCT Vice Chancellor, Dr Max Price, was Deputy Vice-Chancellor Danie Visser, an eminent professor of law and a “leading internationally researcher” (“A” –rated by South Africa’s National Research Foundation) in that discipline.
In short, Visser ruled that all of Mangcu’s racism-related allegations were groundless, “defamatory and unsubstantiated” and Mangcu should “publicly retract” them.
Inter alia, Mr Maxwele’s letter makes other defamatory statements that I respond to one-by-one.
I am a “racist denialist”
I am a Ph.D.-qualified taxonomist who has published extensively of the appropriate biological use of ‘race’ (= subspecies). I unequivocally reject (supported by my scientific publications) the reality or use the concept of ‘race’ as it has been applied to humans (here and here).
I have never denied the reality of racism as a heinous behaviour in general or at UCT in particular. Indeed, as mentioned above, I very strongly support the exposure and punishment of racist acts everywhere.
I am “arrogant or ignorant”
I may be the former. To put me into ‘context’, please consult a brief profile.
With regard to my “ignorance”, like Mangcu, I’ve published extensively on relevant matters as a public intellectual in: The Conversation, Politicsweb, BizNews, GroundUp, UCT In the News, Politicsweb, The Cape Times, The Natal Mercury and the Sunday Independent.
Since I am “retired”, I am “no longer aware of what is happening at UCT”
Mr Maxwele is correct on the first score. He is not on the second, which is blatant ageism. If he had kept up with his reading of the Cape Times (a newspaper in which he features prominently), he might have read my piece “Proposals for quality university education” published on 28 October 2015. Otherwise, he should page back through the above-mentioned media sources or just read the “Discussions and Debates” section of UCT In the News. Indeed, the editors of the latter have refused to publish some of my pieces because I submit too many.
“Professor Crowe must know several cases of racism documented at UCT”
No, I don’t. What are they? How were they adjudicated? Why won’t Mr Maxwele, Prof. Mangcu or anyone else for that matter identify racists or racist structures by name and provide actionable evidence for ”documented acts of racism”, especially evidence that might have been suppressed or has “disappeared” at “this deeply racist institution”?
Why is it ‘wrong’ that “two [actually three] white professors [cited in Mangcu’s grievances]” might not support the Rhodes Must Fall Movement? Is there no room at UCT for dissent? Hasn’t Mr Maxwele been ejected from the Rhodes Must Fall movement (for allegedly assaulting women) as stated by well-known member Mohammed Abdulla?
“One of the [three] professors is facing a disciplinary hearing after a complaint lodged by Professor Mangcu.”
If Maxwele is referring to any of the three staff members mentioned in Mangcu’s grievances, that is simply untrue. If not, who is the miscreant?
“Can a white [UCT] administration judge against a white professor?”
My assessment of the current administration (which includes ‘blacks’), given the UCT Executive’s repeated lenient treatment of Maxwele and other ‘fallists’, is most definitely: “No”. I would have not been surprised if the DVC who adjudicated the “Mangcu Grievance Affair” had ruled in his favour.
My guess is that Prof. Visser, being the law-abiding man he is (and about to enter retirement), acted objectively on evidence instead of political correctness or what Dr Price calls “contextualization”. Just wonder might have happened to Maxwele et al. if Dr Mamphele Ramphele were still VC, given her well-known views on student discipline and mistreatment of women?
“Professor Sakela Buhlungu [Dean of Humanities] has been subject to racism too”
This refers to events at a meeting of the UCT Board of the Faculty of Humanities held in September 2015. They relate to a proposal by Professor David Benatar, head of the Department of Philosophy suggesting that, on ethical grounds, no meat or animal products be served at any Faculty event or meeting.
Mangcu and Adam Haupt (Associate Professor Media Studies) condemned this proposal as “an ad hominem attack on the Dean, on his authority as chair of the Board and the authority of his office as Dean.” Those in favour of the proposal were thereafter prevented from replying and, in protest, left the room. So much for this racist incident.
“The [RMF] movement is a political project that seeks to confront white power using radical political approaches”
At last, Maxwele “unmasks” something! If the various “movements” are “political projects”, please identify their party affiliations and political positions. Their modus operandi is indeed “confrontation”. Maxwele and ‘co-activists’ (reinforced by Mangcu?) have long-since abandoned the processes of non-intimidatory, rational debate/dialogue and consensus-seeking.
Given the actions of Maxwele et al. to date and their consequences: intimidation, destruction and arson, the goal of their “radical political approaches” appears to be not replacing an oppressive colonial cultural hegemony (sensu Gramsci) with an enlightened, organic intellectual-driven Afrocentric alternative. The goal appears to be the destruction of UCT by the Movements’ ‘organic-intellectual’ perpetrators: a leaderless, intellectually bankrupt, non-democratic minority of educationally misguided humanity.
The ‘Fallist’s’ Gramscian 'war of manoeuvre' (direct revolution) was also evident at a recent panel discussion held the University of the Western Cape. Rather than participate in a constructive discussion about how South African universities can be transformed, ‘fallists’ attacked Prof. Mangcu, describing him as a “typically self-indulgent” “Uthengiwe lo” (sellout) when he tried to persuade them to allow speakers to present their views without interruption/intimidation.
To close, the tactics of the wholesale or situational branding of opponents as racists in the absence of evidence might have had some application at some South African universities 25 years ago.
It never had any such application during my 40-year association with the University of Cape Town and, to use it now, is professionally disgraceful. The facts that the current UCT Executive refuses to deal with it quickly and decisively and many (most?) of my ‘extant’ academic colleagues quietly tolerate it is shameful.
Emeritus Prof. Tim Crowe