UCT Acting Vice-Chancellor
Professor Sandra Klopper and student Rekgotsofetse ‘Kgotsi’ Chikane share thir views on the student protest over the statue of Cecil John Rhodes.
Dear colleagues and students
I write to you in my capacity as the acting vice-chancellor while Dr Max Price is away on university businessin Senegal.
I confirm that a small group of protesters, including University of Cape Town students, participated in protest action on Upper Campus on March 9. An individual among the protesters threw excrement at the statue of Cecil John Rhodes.
While we respect the right of our students to protest and, in so doing, draw attention to the complex issues that confront all of us at UCT and in society at large, this is not a licence to engage in actions that, in our view, are reprehensible.
The use of excrement as a form of protest is unacceptable, and we condemn such action in the strongest terms. UCT has procedures in place that allow students to protest. It is regrettable that, in this instance, the protesters did not follow the established procedures.
The Office of the Vice-Chancellor is aware that the Student Representative Council had called a meeting on Jammie Plaza at 1pm yesterday. We encouraged all those who intended to participate in this event to do so in a peaceful and lawful manner.
Quite independently of the Rhodes statue incident, we had already organised and advertised, in partnership with the SRC, the UCT initiative to debate the issue of symbols in a wider context of transformation at the university. A series of discussions that will be scheduled over the rest of this year will commence on March 16.
The first topic will be Heritage, Signage and Symbolism. All are welcome to attend these discussions which are intended to be an opportunity to debate the very issues that many members of the UCT community feel strongly about, but which individuals in the Rhodes statue incident unfortunately chose to raise in a way that cannot be condoned.
The Rhodes statue incident also led to a complaint about how a campus security officer dealt with a photographer who accompanied a journalist to Upper Campus to cover the protest. We are in the process of addressing this matter on the basis that UCT respects the rights of members of the press to report freely and without hindrance. In addition, we are investigating an allegation of assault of a campus security officer by a student protester.
UCT endorses freedom of expression. We encourage open debate, as all universities should do, and urge our students and staff to participate in discussions that contribute to responsible action.
Professor Sandra Klopper
Dear Archbishop Ndungane
I write this letter to you because this week I was forced to ask myself “Why must our struggle continue?” This is not the first time this question has plagued me. Why must it be that a student at the University of Cape Town (UCT) is pushed to the point of having to throw faecal matter over the statue of Cecil John Rhodes in order to have a conversation about transformation at UCT? How is it that we are now at this point?
This week I was forced, again, to come to terms with the fact that there is no plan for real transformation on campus. Transformation that I can see. Honest transformation. Transformation that means something.
I write this letter to you not as an attack on your person, though I must note that your silence on matters of transformation at UCT is disconcerting.
I write this letter as an appraisal of the institutionalised racism that continues to persist within UCT. This letter is addressed to you because I can no longer put my trust in the Office of the Vice Chancellor or Senate to lead any form of meaningful transformation at this institution.
The form of institutionalised racism that persists at UCT is unlike the other forms of obvious, obscene and repugnant acts of racism that exist at other institutions of higher learning. Ours is worse. Ours is systemic. Ours is subliminal. It is the form of racism that makes you ignorant about your subjugation because you are never challenged to seriously engage on critical matters.
It’s the form of racism that allows those who enter UCT from a position of privilege to never have to question their privilege. The privilege of being able to walk past a statue of Saartjie Baartman in the library and have no idea that simply placing her on display, with no justification, is an insult to her legacy and painfully offensive to many students.
You see the problem we face at UCT is that the discussion around transformation and racial transformation, is largely ignored or recklessly diluted by those in decision-making positions. Racial transformation is often packed away into policies that have no tangible outputs and have meaningless impact on the university. If it were true that the university was indeed moving forward with regards to transformation why is it that we do not have a real, meaningful, transformation strategy? Reverend, what we want, what we need, is transformation that we can see.
With regards to representation, we both know that the university has failed in that regard.
Last year the Office of the Vice Chancellor (OVC) tried to defend this by lamenting the lack of quality black academics across the country and further explaining that the university cannot afford to offer competitive salaries to entice young black graduates to continue studying. Both these arguments are weak at best, they show that there was never really a plan to increase representation.
I would also like to challenge you to a game that students at the university often play; I want you to ask a student whether they have ever been lectured by a black academic and if “yes” how many? The response will surely break your heart.
With regards to intellectual diversity and focusing on African Perspectives, I believe we are making headway but there is still a lot left to be desired. The work of our postgraduate students as well as academics must be commended and cannot be ignored. But, if you were to step back, just for a moment, would you say that this is enough? Do you think we are being progressive enough in our production of african intellectualism.
Have we really engaged on learning and sharing the idea of African perspectives? Is it not sad that it is a common saying among students on campus that “UCT is in the unfortunate position of being a European university stuck at the bottom of Africa”?
What is the intellectual diversity we are looking for? Who is it for? These are the real questions that need to be asked. Why must we transcend the idea of race when racial dialogue is stifled on campus? Not through physical action, but through the creation of institutional rules and norms that prevent those in power enacting real change.
Why must we transcend race when white students are never told to accept their white privilege? Even more so, why should we transcend race when the university further allows white students to express that white privilege unopposed on campus because there are simply no structures to do so.
Rekgotsofetse ‘Kgotsi’ Chikane
A student who wants transformation he can see
* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.