UCT slated for cancelling Rose
UCT students and academics say the university has used student activism as an excuse to justify its decision to withdraw controversial figure Flemming Rose's invitation to speak at this year's TB Davie Memorial Lecture.
Rose is the cultural editor of the Danish magazine Jyllands-Posten, which published a series of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in 2005.
On September 30, 2005, Jyllands-Posten published 12 editorial cartoons under the title, “The Face of Muhammad”, the most notorious of which depicted the prophet with a bomb in his turban.
UCT’s Academic Freedom Committee (AFC) invited Rose in March 2015 to speak at the August lecture, but was asked to withdraw the invitation. They were subsequently instructed by vice-chancellor Max Price that Rose would not be permitted on campus.
There would be no TB Davie Academic Memorial Lecture this year.
UCT acting vice-chancellor Francis Petersen said the publication of the cartoons generated extensive debate and controversy regarding freedom of speech, blasphemy and Islamophobia, and was accompanied by public protests, riots and loss of life.
“When the AFC issued this invitation, the climate on university campuses across South Africa was much quieter than it is now,” he said, with groups like #RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall, #UCTSurvivors which now protest regularly on campus relatively unknown.
The university says Rose’s presence at this time would lead to vehement and possibly violent protest against him and UCT.
“The UCT executive remains committed to academic freedom and freedom of expression and we view these rights as fundamental to our institutional culture. As with all rights, however, context and consequence are also critical,” Petersen said.
Black Academic Caucus (BAC) media sub-committee member Adam Haupt said “advocates of decolonisation” were used as scapegoats to justify the university's decision, but that freedom of speech and academic freedom are not absolute.
“It has to be balanced with the public interest. If you are enabling hate speech, racism, misogyny or incitement to violence, you are not acting in the public interest. This is important in the global context where Islamophobia is on the rise.
“If they want to host a champion of free speech, why not invite an investigative journalist who elected not to compromise his/her ethics,” Haupt said.
Simon Rakei, of the FeesMustFall collective, said the university was “vilifying black students and Islam itself”, implying that violence could break out.
He said the blame was now being placed on black students to defend the university's “right-wing ideologies”.
But UCT spokeswoman Patricia Lucas said the decision was not directed towards any students, staff or protesters.
On the website, Index on Censorship, Rose has called the decision to disinvite him “a sign of poor judgement and bad academic standards” on the basis of what other people say about him.[email protected]