Cape Town - Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s (CPUT) management has been taken to task by its council’s former chairman who says the institution has a lack of sensitivity about District Six – the land it is situated on.
Judge Siraj Desai has spoken out about CPUT’s construction of residences on a prominent District Six memorial site, saying the university’s current management must be “oblivious” to the history of the land.
“I was extremely surprised to see a building springing up on campus territory,” he said on Wednesday.
Judge Desai said he attended the inauguration of CPUT’s rector and vice-chancellor, Dr Prins Nevhutalu, and noticed that in his speech there was no reference to District Six.
“It appeared to me as if he was oblivious to the sensitive nature of the land,” Judge Desai said.
He felt that the insensitivity of building on land that held a memorial cairn for District Six and its former residents, especially “on the spine of Hanover Street”, showed that CPUT failed to understand the “savagery which underpinned its demolition”.
Judge Desai, a senior judge of the Western Cape High Court, said he had been a “regular opponent” whenever there had been talk of building in District Six.
He is the former chairman of the CPUT council, has long been involved in District Six preservation campaigns and still continues to sit on the board of the District Six Museum.
In the late 1990s , then minister of education Sibusiso Bengu appointed Judge Desai to the council of the then Cape Technikon, now CPUT, and told him at the time: “What I want you to do is protect the people of District Six.”
Throughout his time on the council, he said, he adopted the position that District Six must always have a representative, someone who was “acutely aware of the sensitive nature of the land”.
“At that stage, whether it was written or not, the university adopted the position that there be no further developments in District Six. Not until land restitution had been resolved,” Judge Desai said.
“In my time no buildings were erected on District Six land.”
He said everyone on the council respected that the institution might have title to the land, but that title did not make legitimate the illegal dispossession of District Six.
“I do not know when and how the campus changed its position.”
He said that in the past there had been people in the community who felt that the campus “must be razed to the ground brick by brick” because some had “adopted the position that the apartheid grand plan was to locate it there to obliterate the memory of District Six”.
But Judge Desai said he resisted that call, believing that the campus could become an integral part of the emerging community in District Six.
“But that’s hardly likely with the current leaders.”
Now he wants to warn CPUT that after 40 or more years of campaigning for the land to be restored to its rightful owners nobody is going to give up at this stage.
“There is no resolution of this matter and there will be no resolution of this matter until management begins to understand the historic sensitivity of this land,” he added.
And he called for Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to follow in the progressive view adopted by his predecessor Bengu and protect the interests of the area and its people.
CPUT spokesman Thami Nkwanyane said he could not comment on the new campus residence or any claims of violation from the District Six Museum “until further notice”.
After a meeting with the District Six Museum last Thursday, he told the Cape Times that it had ended amicably, but museum director Bonita Bennett later said it still needed answers as well as an apology for what she called CPUT’s wrongdoing.