Backlash over appointment of white academic to head up transformation at UCT
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Cape Town - The University of Cape Town's (UCT) vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng, once the darling of black academics and students, seems to have fallen out of favour with them, after the appointment of a white retired academic to replace a black female academic in charge of transformation at the university.
Deputy vice-chancellor: Transformation, Professor Loretta Feris was allegedly replaced by a 72-year-old professor Martin Hall on a R2 million salary package.
Hall, who served in a variety of roles at UCT between 1983 and 2008, assumed duties as acting deputy vice-chancellor: Transformation on April 1.
National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) Ikapa south regional secretary Baxolise Mali said the union was disappointed that the university council elected to replace a black woman with a 72 year-old retired white professor while there has been an outcry for a transformation at the university.
Mali said that decision was a slap in the face for all who have been calling for the inclusion of black faces in the management of the university especially of black women who have been marginalised for a long time.
Black Academic Caucus (BAC) at UCT said the developments around the DVC: Transformation position, demonstrated the typical short-sightedness of the UCT with regards to the fundamentally important issues of transformation, and in particular the inclusion of historically marginalised groups into positions of power.
BAC said specifically, the recycling of retired white colleagues into positions of power completely goes against the “infinitesimal gains that may have been recorded in the area of transformation over the years”.
"Symbolically, this appointment endorses patriarchy and celebrates whiteness at UCT and hence also perpetuates the historical power imbalances including the sustaining the historically dominant voices with the university," said BAC.
Student Representative Council (SRC) chairperson Declan Dyer said for the university to defend such an appointment, in the name of diversity that the university seems to promote, was in fact to explicitly pledge allegiance to an anti-black colonial project that confidently masquerades as the transformation project.
However, Phakeng said Feris was neither “fired” nor “axed” as alleged. Her term was set to end on December 31, 2021. However, she did not seek a second term of office.
Phakeng said Feris informed her as her line manager of her decision early enough to enable the commencement of the recruitment process for her substantive successor.
"Following her decision not to seek a second term, the DVC then requested and was granted sabbatical from April 1, 2021 until January 31, 2022, which brought her term to an end earlier," said Phakeng.
She said it was deeply problematic to suggest that the ability of members to serve the university for a limited acting period could only be on the basis of their race, age and gender.
She said it was a skewed and incorrect view of transformation. Phakeng said UCT remained committed to the transformation project while at the same time being a diversified campus where all members of the campus community from all backgrounds could have a place and make a contribution.
EFFSC interim leader Mila Zibi said the student command viewed the appointment as regressive and not in line with the transformation agenda that the university purported.