The Vice Chancellor, Max Price, has yet again allowed violence and intolerance to rule UCT. But he is not without his critics. This is a well-judged critique of his strategy by a member of staff, which was published in the Rand Daily Mail.
There is a real danger that the 2016 academic year will be lost.
Max Price’s own take on the situation is below.
After a month of shutdown‚ the University of Cape Town opened its doors again this week only to witness classes being disrupted‚ protests by students and stun grenades let off in response.
The university said in a statement on Tuesday‚ “protesters blocked Baxter Road outside the Tugwell residence this morning. Jammie Shuttle services have been disrupted due to protest action”.
“At about 09:15 the protesters moved towards Kopano residence where SAPS fired two stun grenades and a smoke grenade to disperse the group. The protesters then regrouped and marched through lower campus. A fire extinguisher was set off at the School of Economics building.”
Meanwhile‚ Shackville TRC put out a statement that said: “Currently police are in mass at UCT and putting on riot gear. All we have done is attempt to walk to the University Campus. The University of Cape Town and public policing is now operating outside the realms of the law.”
One support staff member at UCT is angry about the way the crisis has been handled on campus. He penned an open letter to Vice Chancellor Dr Max Price on Tuesday It reads:
Dear Dr. Price‚
I feel compelled to write to you to express my deep disappointment in how you have handled the current crisis at UCT.
It is with dismay that I have learned that you have persuaded the UCT Council to allow you to offer amnesty to the students expelled for assault and arson committed during the “Shackville” protests in February.
If you grant this amnesty you will further advance the culture of impunity that plagues the nation generally‚ and which began at UCT with your granting of a general amnesty for violations committed during the RMF protests last year and the dropping of related criminal charges.
I am very much afraid that this pattern of granting impunity is going to continue and the protestors responsible for the latest outrages are not going to face either internal disciplinary measures or criminal charges. Surely you can see that this practice will lead to a never-ending cycle of lawlessness?
You kept the university closed for nearly four weeks and refused to use adequate security and police services to keep it open. I know that the anti-security fetish has taken hold of a large part of the staff and student body and I suspect that your stance has been‚ at least partially‚ due to pressure from these quarters.
However‚ your job is not a popularity contest. It is to do the right thing in the circumstances. The right thing‚ and‚ in fact‚ your plain duty‚ was to take all necessary steps‚ including the adequate use of private security and the police‚ to keep the university open and to protect staff and students in going about their business.
This you failed to do. Wits has tried to follow this route and it remains to be seen whether the final outcome will be any better than ours‚ but at least they have tried.
You on the other hand have chosen to enter into a negotiating process‚ which you should have realised was futile given the consistent bad faith in which the Fallist movement has negotiated in the past‚ and you have ended up capitulating to the Fallists’ demands anyway‚ after the damage of a four week closure. When you did attempt to re-open for a few days it was with inadequate security and police protection and resulted in many staff and students being subjected to violent intimidation and hate speech.
I note that you have also committed the university to free and “decolonised” higher education (VC Desk‚ 12 October). Committing to free education is disingenuous as you have no power whatsoever to deliver this without government commitment‚ which is very unlikely given the already heavy demands on public resources.
I have been trying to understand what “decolonisation” means. From the Fallist discourse‚ whose position you are apparently adopting‚ it appears to mean abandoning UCT’s progressive‚ liberal and internationalist tradition in favour of a narrow‚ anti-intellectual‚ anti-democratic and essentially fascist African nationalism.
That the Fallist position is racist is obvious from their racially charged discourse and from the racial abuse many white staff and students who have disagreed with them have had to endure (and I should point out that black staff and students have often been subjected to even worse abuse from them).
Another indication of Fallist racism is the “Kill All Whites” slogan that has appeared in places on campus during the past few weeks. Yet‚ UCT management has not‚ as far as I am aware‚ publicly expressed outrage at such hate speech. Instead it treats‚ and tries to portray‚ the Fallists as legitimate “stakeholders”. People committed to disrupting university activities by intimidation‚ violence‚ hate speech and arson should be treated as the outlaws they are and not a stakeholders!
I am well aware that many black staff and students find UCT an alienating place and the continued lack of demographic representivity amongst staff is a serious problem. No doubt curricula can and should also be periodically revised to be more relevant to the lives of our students and their communities.
But I cannot believe that Fallist vision of “decolonisation” will result in anything but the destruction of UCT as a serious place of study and research‚ for any and all staff and students‚ no matter what their race. Your entertainment of this vision‚ together with your continued appeasement of the Fallists and refusal to take the necessary steps to keep the university open has already cause the institution serious and probably irreparable damage.
As a member of the university community for 25 years (as a student‚ staff member and spouse of a staff member) what is happening to UCT breaks my heart. I have heard it a few times already and I repeat it here as I believe it is true: you are in danger of being remembered as the Neville Chamberlain of UCT.
18 October 2016
Dear colleagues and students
The University of Cape Town executive is committed to keeping the university open and completing the 2016 academic year. We condemn the violence of the last two days. I would like to extend my gratitude and empathy to the staff and students who have experienced harassment or intimidation and have still worked tirelessly through this four-week period. Conditions have been very difficult for everyone – PASS staff, academic staff and students.
While we will engage the security that is needed to continue with the academic programme as planned, we believe that a sustainable solution will more likely be achieved if we can find agreement and compromise. In view of this, we remain open to engaging with the protesting students, who are largely represented by the group called the SRC Candidates. The executive has therefore been engaging with the students on the following issues:
1. Immediately setting up an Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (IRTC) / Shackville TRC to look into all the issues that have contributed to the protests and which need to be resolved to ensure that UCT is able to address the challenges of transformation and decolonisation
2. A commitment to the ideal of free, decolonised education
3. An inquiry into financial exclusions
4. Possible amnesty to the students who have been interdicted, suspended or expelled due to their involvement in the February Shackville protests.
In return the university will require the following commitments:
1. Resumption of full university activities
2. Agreement that there will be no disruptions to teaching, learning and examinations
3. Agreement that there will be no further interference with staff and workers carrying out their official university duties.
Any agreement reached will need to be based on a mutual understanding that:
1. All parties will bind themselves to the recommendations made through the IRTC / Shackville TRC process
2. The offers of amnesty will be withdrawn if disruptions continue and full university activities are prevented from resuming.
As of today, protesters are still engaged in activities that are aimed at shutting down the university despite concerted attempts on the part of the UCT executive to find agreement.
The executive still remains open to engagement, but at the same time it is doing everything to ensure that the academic year is completed successfully.
The executive appeals to all those still involved in protest to do so within the framework of the law.
Dr Max Price