OPINION

UCT's response to allegations of racist violence - Max Price

VC says two incidents involving students are under investigation, charges will follow if warranted by the evidence

Letter from Dr Max Price, University of Cape Vice-Chancellor, in response to allegations of racist violence involved UCT students, November 26 2014:

UCT's response to allegations of racist violence

Dear colleagues and students

You may be aware of recent media reports which implicate University of Cape Town students in two separate incidents involving alleged acts of violence or racism in the vicinity of a nightclub in Claremont. The allegations are deeply concerning, and on hearing of them we immediately launched our own independent investigations. I recently wrote to the Students Representative Council (SRC) in this regard, and I attach the letter for your information (see below).

If you are concerned about the issue, the letter will give insight into the actions we are taking and our position on the matter.

Sincerely

Dr Max Price

Vice-Chancellor

Text of the letter:

UNIVERSITY OF CAPE TOWN

iYunivesithi YaseKapa

Universiteit van Kaapstad

Dr Max Price, Vice-Chancellor

Private Bag X3, Rondebosch, 7701, South Africa

25 November 2014

Dear SRC members

You would have noted the recent media articles relating to two incidents where UCT students were allegedly involved in racist or violent attacks.

Both these incidents are alleged to have happened near the Tiger-Tiger nightclub in Claremont. The first incident was in January 2014 and involved one of our students (a white male) who allegedly urinated from a balcony onto the head of a taxi driver (a black male) and when confronted about the act is said to have made despicable racial slurs.

The second incident is alleged to have occurred in October 2014 when a black woman working as a cleaner was assaulted and verbally abused when she intervened when a group of men were beating others. She alleges that the group was made up of five white UCT students.

In the first instance, it must be stated categorically that UCT absolutely, utterly rejects racism, violence and discrimination of any kind. There can never be a justification for such behaviour and we will fight it tooth and nail where it occurs. We will bring our strongest disciplinary sanctions to bear on anyone who is found guilty of such behaviour.

The media have reported several cases of white-on-black violence in Cape Town recently and it is painful hearing the allegations of what can only be termed as disgusting and absolutely unacceptable behavior. Any UCT student who is guilty of this behaviour does not belong in UCT. Racism and violence serve to break down the vast effort made by good South Africans across the board (many of them among our students and staff) who work tirelessly to create a more just, fair and tolerant South Africa.

UCT is very aware that on our campus, as in every other space in South Africa and in fact the world, racism (of all permutations) continues to play itself out. It is our role and responsibility to acknowledge it, fight it and educate and transform ourselves and others so that a better society is formed.

Even if one disregards these particular incidents, there can be no question that many other incidents of racism and violence occur everywhere in our society. Black people are mostly (but not always) the target of this abhorrent behaviour. Every day, people suffer the consequences of disrespectful, abusive behaviour. It is visible in the aggression and violence of motorists on our roads, the disrespect shown towards women and children through violent and sexist attacks, and the human rights abuses against many disadvantaged and disempowered workers that unfortunately still continue.

The anger of UCT and the public following these allegations is understood, justified and very necessary because it will force change. UCT will never hide or protect a person who makes themselves guilty of such behaviour.

However, a pivotal element in a democratic society is that guilt must be established in a fair and proper judicial process. Our legal system declares people innocent until proven guilty. Guilt is established based on evidence tested in proper investigation and in legal or disciplinary processes.

As UCT became aware of the two separate incidents, we started investigating the allegations immediately.

This process included taking statements, visiting the sites, working with the police, working with the business owners involved, interviewing witnesses, talking to the families, consulting with legal experts. On conclusion of the process we will make a finding about whether the evidence points to the fact that a case must be answered.

If so, we will bring charges and a tribunal will be established to hear the case and conclude with a verdict and sentence. In cases where racism, criminal activity or sexism is proven, sanctions will follow.

In both these incidents the State has indeed decided to act. UCT is cognisant of this. The first case is currently being heard in the Wynberg court. In the second incident, a UCT student and his friends were arrested; the court might pursue the matter and might include a charge against a police officer who is alleged to have acted irregularly to avoid the prosecution of the group that allegedly assaulted the women.

UCT awaits and will take note of the outcome of these cases. We will continue our independent investigation into both incidents. We have placed a UCT representative in the court to hear all the evidence.

It might be in the interest of a fair process to allow the court cases to conclude prior to making our own final decisions. But that is still under consideration.

We understand the frustration of the public, and immediate action against those involved would be so much easier. But it will not be wise or just. Again, we stress that as abhorrent as the allegations are, a fair and just process must be allowed to run its course. If we act in haste we might, in fact, make ourselves guilty of unfairness and a type of aggression that would add to the problems in our society instead of uplifting it, as is our intention and wish.

We must, no matter the pressures of the moment, act fairly.

We must also always remember that we are an educational institution. If it proves in the end that a student of ours is guilty in some way of an offence, then we must discipline them. It must be evident to such a student that fellow students and staff at UCT find such behaviour deplorable. We should also remember that from the experience itself there can sometimes come the deepest transformation through learning the error of one's ways. This is why we are offering all parties independent mediation attempts. Perhaps that is where the most learning will occur.

Lastly, we should remember that by far the greatest majority of our students and staff, across all demographics, act in a decent manner and play an active role on a daily basis to break down stereotypes, to work against racism and sexism, to reject any form of violence.

We know this because we see it every day on our campus in real life examples: students loving across all demographics, students of different backgrounds spending holidays at each other's homes, students of all inclinations working at SHAWCO in the most disadvantaged societies and standing up for what is right and just, no matter their differences.

It is unfair to these wonderful students to be tarred with the same brush because someone looking like them has stepped out of line. It is in itself a form of racism.

So please be assured that we are acting on these matters and will conclude them in a fair and just way and as speedily as possible. Please also continue to work in your own way to highlight these very important issues.

Sincerely

Dr Max Price

Vice-Chancellor

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