File photo: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)
File photo: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Racism does exist at UCT, commission finds

By Lisa Isaacs Time of article published Mar 20, 2019

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Cape Town – Racism does exist at UCT. It goes beyond attitudes and beliefs and is aided and abetted by poor management systems which administratively result in discrimination on a racial basis.

On the basis of submissions received and analysis of policies and other documents, this is what the Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (IRTC) reluctantly concluded in its final report to the institution, which the Cape Times has seen.

The IRTC began its work in February last year following the negotiated agreement between UCT’s executive, students’ representative council and other student organisations that took part in the protests that unfolded at UCT, including the #RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall and Shackville protests, throughout 2015 and 2016.

The commission was mandated to look into institutional culture and practices, including issues of decolonisation, transformation, unjust discrimination and amnesty for students.

Former Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo) president, respected academic and author Mosibudi Mangena, chaired the commission of which anti-apartheid activist and former Justice of the Constitutional Court Judge Zak Yacoob and leading human rights lawyer Yasmin Sooka were members.

In the scathing 92-page report, the commission said it received 80 submissions, held amnesty and public hearings as well as examined many documents submitted by the university, students and other interested persons or entities.

“It is worth noting that not a single submission claimed that UCT was not a racist place,” the report says.

“Racism at the UCT often demonstrates itself in subtle forms of daily micro-aggressions which have an impact equal to direct and explicit racial discrimination.”

Among other findings, the commission said at all levels of professional staff employment, white South Africans have been greatly over-represented with more positions being occupied by men than women at the level of full professorship.

“Information available also indicates that African South African female academics occupy the lowest levels of all academic positions in the university,” said the commission.

“The university must promote programmes or introduce initiatives aimed at the promotion and retention of black academics, in particular, female black academics,” said the commission.

It has also recommended eight students for amnesty.

“The student protests overall had a devastating impact on individuals, their families, and communities, as well as the academic community as a whole.

"The resentment at being treated unfairly, the divisions along the racial lines and the overall atmosphere of mistrust between the staff members themselves, and between the staff and the students, had become even more evident following the protests.”

The commission recommended UCT appoint a panel to determine how to strengthen mental health services.

“The response of the university management to the protests that unfolded was inadequate and inappropriate, to say the least.

"Instead of handling the protests with understanding and sensitivity, the university management was predominantly preoccupied with removing students from the sites they were occupying without giving due consideration to their needs, motivations and reasons for their actions.”

It said UCT must immediately develop a comprehensive policy on the functions of all security personnel on campus, in particular, the conditions for employing private security companies.

“The university must ensure that all its policies aimed at addressing racism, sexism, sexual harassment, and all other discriminatory practices are effectively and adequately implemented,” said the commission.

Former convocation president, alumni and Master's student Lorna Houston said she was pleased that so many people made submissions and spoke about their lived realities at UCT.

“I am thankful for their courage to participate in the process. The report is encouraging, I am still reading and processing it and the steering committee will still meet and make recommendations to the UCT Council.

"I knew from the outset that I hoped for the IRTC to expose the structural violence that maintains the culture of exclusion at the university which students sought to expose. The report exposes the massive failure by management to recognise the problems it faced - all of which students raised at the time,” she said.

UCT’s Black Academic Caucus and student leaders said they would analyse the report and comment at a later stage. UCT did not respond to questions by deadline. 

Previous UCT vice-chancellor Max Price, in office during the Fallist campaign, could not be reached last night.

Cape Times

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