Wednesday, 10 May 2017

University of Cape Town Vice Chancellor and Convocation ‘trumped’ by ‘protesters’

University of Cape Town Vice Chancellor and Convocation ‘trumped’ by ‘protesters’

Emeritus Prof. Tim Crowe

I would like to correct miss-representations of information underpinning and events that took place at the Annual General Meeting of the University of Cape Town Convocation ‘held’ in UCT’s Kramer Building on 15 December 2016 and give some of my own perspective.

First, contrary to Advocate Geoffrey Budlender’s statements and reiterated in Nathan Geffen’s article in GroundUp , my motion did NOT even suggest, let alone call for, the resignation/dismissal of Vice Chancellor Max Price and his deputy VCs.  It called for the 100000+ registered alumni to be:

balloted (anonymously and, if willing, by fine-scale ‘self-identification – by ‘race’, gender, age, etc.) to consider a vote of no-confidence in Dr Max Price and his senior Executive acting as representatives of the interests of the UCT Community as a whole in negotiations with UCT students, staff and others who have been adjudged to have broken the law under the pretext of legitimate protest.”

This motion was yet another of my and other’s attempts to ascertain – democratically via polls/referenda - precisely what the views of the UCT Community are (by ‘race’, age, gender, employment status, etc.) on what’s happening (and will happen) at UCT vis-à-vis a broad range of critical issues.

Time and again, Dr Price has refused to conduct such surveys and has ignored/dismissed the results of a range of polls and petitions, conducted to date, all of which challenge his and the DVC’s actions/inactions.

Indeed, with regard to my motion, Ms Gwen Ngwenya (former UCT SRC president and current COO of the South African Institute of Race Relations – with whom I’ve communicated only in the last two weeks) and I had agreed that she should attempt to reinforce the true intentions of my motion with an amendment concerning the status of Price et al.  Unfortunately, she was unable to do so because she was continuously interrupted by Mr Chumani Maxwele who was granted conditional amnesty according to the November 6 Agreement.   

Mr Maxwele and at least eight other ‘protesters’ had invaded the meeting with their dated placards, one of which read:

“No student should be exculded (sic) as a result of historical debt”.

There was no objection from or deterring action by Dr Price, Mr Royston Pillay (UCT’s registrar and Secretary of the Convocation) and/or Prof. Barney Pityana, chairperson of the meeting.  In the end, at the urging of Dr Lydia Cairncross (Faculty of Health Sciences) and Adv Budlender, the ‘protesters’ were allowed to stay and protest “silently”. 

They did protest, but not in silence.  Indeed, despite a polite requests from Dr Price, they refused to stand back while he made his presentation and address him as “Dr Price”.  His presentation comprised selected performance statistics that supported UCT’s recent successful functioning.
In any event, I would, once again, like to make my views on Dr Price’s actions/inactions crystal clear.  His exclusive ‘negotiating’ with and persistent pandering to the most implacable violent and destructive ‘protester’ elements has encouraged them to become progressively more demanding, intractable and aggressive.   

His equally persistent exclusion and arguable repression of what I call the excluded “silenced majority” of students, staff, fee-paying-parents and alumni has resulted in their alienation.  What some of them and I want him and his team to do is cease their biased actions and deliberate neglect, and get on with the job that they are hired to do, undertaking the duties defined within their job descriptions while staying within the bounds set by UCT’s fundamental principles of Academic Freedom and pursuit of truth as individual students and many academics see it. 

When I spoke after Price and attempted to explain my motion and to counter some of his claims, I was interrupted and jeered persistently and labelled variously: “racist” and “Jim Crow”, “apartheid activist” and “killer of black people” (by a woman attendee who refused to give her name when allowed to comment and aggressively confronted a legitimate alumnus when she was photographed).   
Later, Mr Maxwele called me a “known racist”.

Adv Budlender followed, and was similarly harassed (by Maxwele) – but not vilified. Furthermore, he praised (as did Dr Cairncross later) the abovementioned Agreement as a significant achievement, even though it was based (pointed out by Ms. Ngwenya) on “negotiated non-violence”.

When (as required) the seconder of my motion (Dr Anna Crowe) attempted to add her perspective on my motion, she was also harassed repeatedly.

Dr Cairncross then spoke against the motion of no-confidence, arguing that the reconciliation commission agreed to on the eve of exams was in the entire university’s best interests. 

Another clear impression not chronicled in Mr Geffen’s article is that other individuals and/or ‘factions’ within UCT feel (irrespective of ‘race’ and employment status) ignored, even alienated, by the UCT Executive through its lack of consideration of, or inconsistent response to, their concerns.  If there was one thing “consistent” at the meeting it was the ‘protesters’ (who were there primarily to sabotage the “no-confidence motion”) overt, uncensored and gleeful way they saw fit to use filthy language and racist and sexist epithets.  One poor academic trying to tell her story of the earlier protests as part of the debate was mocked openly, with mimed clown-tears and cat-calling.  

What’s the bottom line?

I agree that my motion (regardless of interpretation and/or amendment) “did not appear well-supported” and probably would have been voted down.  My hope was that some significant support for it would have made the Executive more willing to consult with and cater for the “silenced majority”.

As we left the building, I heard a young person exhort “There will be no UCT in 2017!”  Her fellow crowd members supported in glee. Is she and her ‘like-thinkers’ someone who should sit with, or opposite to, Dr Price at the nebulously defined and populated Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission?  Indeed, aren’t Maxwele et al.’s action breaches of student conduct and therefore violations of the Budlender/Cairncross-praised Agreement?

Let’s see what happens.

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