UCT vice-chancellor Max Price
UCT has denied that it banned the display of 75 pieces of artwork on its campuses, saying some artworks at the university have been temporarily removed for safekeeping.

This follows the destruction of paintings removed from the university’s halls during student protests last year.

UCT spokesperson Azwi Mufamadi said: “Some artworks have been temporarily removed for safekeeping for a variety of reasons - including custodial responsibilities of the university - after the protest action of February 2016.

"Some of our artworks were damaged or destroyed during this time and UCT has a responsibility to protect the artworks in its care.”

The decision to temporarily remove some artworks coincided with the ongoing transformation process through which aspects of the university community - including artworks - are under discussion in order to forge an identity for the university, which reflects the diverse body of staff and students and creates an inclusive community where everyone sees themselves reflected in the institution, he said.

“UCT will continue with the ongoing work of reviewing all its artworks, through a council-established Works of Art Committee, which will be carried out in a way that is meaningful and will lead to a space where in future everyone in the university community will find the art on campus is inclusive and reflective of all diverse cultures,” Mufamadi said.

Student activist Simon Rakei said it was “disingenuous” that the university claimed the removal coincided with the ongoing transformation process. "If the university was sincere in creating an inclusive environment, it would enter into discussion regarding the art," he said.

“This is to safeguard assets, that is the main interest. If that is the main objective it is not a positive step forward. There has been no consultation (with students),” he said.

Rakei said he was not aware which artworks were removed, nor why they had been specifically removed.

The DA said it will write to UCT vice-chancellor Max Price and council chairperson Sipho Pityana to request that the university immediately "unban" the artworks that have been removed from public display or covered up in the past year.

DA higher education and training spokesperson Belinda Bozzoli said: “It is difficult to comprehend that one of our leading universities, known for its commitment to openness and free speech, and dedicated to the support and curation of the creations of many of South Africa’s best artists, should have indulged this kind of censorship.

"(It is) akin to the censorship and banning of literature, film, theatre and art by the apartheid government.”

A shutdown of academic debate and artistic discourse is afoot at UCT, Bozzoli said.

[email protected]