Letters to the Editor: January 21

A shameful story of suppression
In the articles “Controversial UKZN audit under wraps” and “Varsity’s voices of dissent gagged” (January 14), the Mail & Guardian has performed a public service in drawing to our attention the decision of the Council for Higher Education (CHE) to suppress the results of the external audit conducted at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2008.

The fact that no publicity was given to the decision to suppress the audit — the record of the decision is on the CHE’s website but is not easy to find — suggests that it was hoped the matter would be allowed to drop quietly. Yet the audit was a large-scale activity in which many were involved and in which many invested their time.

Whatever the circumstances of a leaked letter it is not an acceptable outcome that the entire audit is now suppressed.

As an academic working at UKZN at the time when the audit was undertaken, I have a few questions to pose in addition to those raised by your education reporter, David Macfarlane, in his piece:

  • Who is going to compensate the academics and other staff members for the hours of work that went into preparing for the audit? The costs of the audit in time and (taxpayers’) money were enormous, only for its findings (on a wide range of crucially important issues) to end up in file 13 because the vice-chancellor happened to disagree with some of its conclusions and its “tone”.
  • What is the point of having an independent review if those in power at the institution are simply able to suppress a result that is not entirely favourable to them?
  • Why is it that the interests of the university are regarded as being synonymous with those of its current, thin-skinned vice-chancellor? The university is constituted by all its members, not just the management. Whose interests are being served by this suppression?
  • This is just the latest episode in a shameful story of the suppression of dissent and information, and of the misuse of power at UKZN since circa 2005. A university, of all places, should allow debate and discussion on contentious issues.

    What I fail to understand is how a national body could condone this. The CHE should be ashamed of itself for having bowed to pressure from the university’s top management in this way. The draft report should be released for discussion within the institution immediately. — Shirley Brooks

    Having taught at UKZN and worked in the office of quality assurance there, I am intrigued by the articles dealing with the CHE audit and non-publication of the subsequent audit report, following warm on the heels of the articles dealing with the authorship battles between the vice-chancellor Professor Malegapuru Makgoba and his public relations director, Professor Dasarath Chetty, over a published history of the UKZN merger.

    It probably does not tell the tale as I remember it. I was involved in the merger process as a member of Professor Mapule Ramashala’s merger think-tank when she was vice-chancellor of the University of Durban-Westville in the period leading up to the merger with the University of Natal out of which “marriage” UKZN was born.

    Patently, those academics who are fighting for greater academic freedom (including the usuals: transparency, accountability and democratic participation) haven’t learnt their lesson. A bit sad when we think of modern management theory extolling the virtues of what it calls “the learning organisation”.
    If I were Professor Makgoba I would go a little bit further than just disciplining one or two here and there.

    Since the whole caboodle would appear to be proving irksomely resistant to indoctrination, I would send as many of them as possible on a staff exchange to the University of Pyongyang, north of Seoul. They could supplement their edification by working in the fields during lunch and before and after classes.

    This way, they would soon understand the way of the world. And there would be no more talk of academic freedom to challenge Makgoba’s vision for his institution.
    Of course, he is perfectly at liberty to ignore my draconian suggestion.

    All this re-education stuff may sound a bit reactionary and cruel, but fortune favours the brave (as the old cliché has it) and, in my sad experience, academics (myself included) tend to be anything but brave. And anything but streetsmart.

    As I remember it, UKZN academics had their big chance. A staff strike in 2005/2006 paralysed the institution and brought the vice-chancellor to the negotiating table to sue for peace from a position of relative weakness.

    Being such innocents in the realm of reality politics, they were only too willing to give him a reprieve (on the strength of the appearance of contrition and a long list of concessions), which allowed Makgoba to re-consolidate his power and take back everything he had conceded and more.

    I am not a historian by academic training but I do seem to recall a few historical precedents for this. — Damian Garside, Mafikeng

    Weak governance, pathetic excuses
    I found the apology for Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza by one Mabutha Sithole (Letters, January 7) to be a nauseating, childish and embarrassing rigmarole. Among other things, he dwelt unnecessarily on lambasting Rapule Tabane, who had expressed his opinion about Mabuza and the province.

    Sithole should instead have embraced the opportunity to educate Tabane, the world and all the doubting Thomases about the state of a province in distress, a mini-Zimbabwe in the making. The last time I checked, opinions were like nipples — we all have them and I believe that is still the status quo in that regard.

    Mpumalanga has turned out to be a pathetic disgrace for South Africa, an enormous pothole on South Africa’s road to social, political and economic recovery, and a terrible, self-destructive gangrene in the African National Congress.

    It is a good public-relations endeavour for a spokesperson to relay the positive aspects of his/her boss, but Sithole’s remarks about publicity-shy Mabuza are ludicrous: “Mr Mabuza is not a celebrity.

    He is the real leader of the people. He does not get joy from seeing his face in newspapers. He gets satisfaction from seeing people feel safe in their homes. Judge him on service delivery —”

    The premier needs to be seen on TV, heard on radio and should appear in newspapers talking to the people and discussing initiatives to deal with the challenges faced in the province, openly admitting that there is a problem and describing what is to be done. That is the only way people’s confidence can be gained.

    Sithole seems to think that service delivery protests in Mpumalanga were last experienced in 2009. Yet the poor could be in a state of lethargy or exhausted by flogging a dead horse. They could be afraid of endangering their wasted lives, or they have finally listened to the voice of reason and have decided to protest by vote in the coming local government elections and beyond. — Noah Kaliofas Marutlulle

    Avoid crossing over to the dark side
    The darker side of Indians” by Primarashni Gower (December 23) was a poignant baring of her soul. It exposed India’s hidden colour problem and South Africa’s hidden Indian colour problem.

    This so-called problem of melanin content causes pain and bewilderment to the world’s darker people everywhere. And within darker communities, the use of the melanin measure against one another is a further extension of this farcical nightmare.

    As a way of dealing with this, I suggest that the real site of the problem is our pain and bewilderment when confronted with racism. This reaction may be appropriate the first or second time it happens, but confers legitimacy on the notion that human worth is determined by the first few millimetres of the skin.

    Our reaction could and should be based on our non-racial view of ourselves as we look in the mirror every morning; better, let it be based on our self-image as confident, optimistic children. What was our reaction to first being confronted with the stupidity of human colour valuation? Outrage, of course!

    The loss of our instinctive outrage is the start of a lifetime of self-destructive, angry reaction. We are better served by responding, not reacting. We must reclaim control of all aspects of our lives, even our emotional response.

    We are probably better served by choosing to teach our young that we can’t control much of what happens in the world, but we can control how we respond. — Thabo Seseane, Johannesburg

    Better than camels
    In their thought-provoking article “Diplomats — who needs them?” (January 14) Gerrit Olivier and Herbert Beukes regrettably did not refer to an important quality of career diplomats, which is acquired only after years of dedicated training. Bismarck referred to it succinctly when he stated that diplomats were superior to camels because “Camels can only work for about 40 days without drinking while diplomats can drink for far longer than that without working”. — Pieter Wolvaardt, Grahamstown

    So-called so-and-so
    In Dennis Davis’s review of Peter Harris’s Birth (Friday, January 14) he refers to Lucas Mangope as the “president of the so-called Republic of Bophuthatswana”. It is difficult to imagine how that would have been possible. Was Mangope not actually the “so-called president of the so-called Republic of Bophuthatswana”? — Stewart Truswell, Franschhoek

    Do the right thing
    Taki Amira and the City of Cape Town are to be highly commended for holding course with the new liquor laws that will close clubs and pubs earlier in 2011 (“Liquor Act serves largely the poor and not vested interests“, December 10). Similar policies in other countries have been remarkably successful in reducing the social fallout from alcohol.

    For far too long the liquor industry has escaped censure, in spite of a charge sheet that is a veritable horror story. Thanks to powerful lobbying, deep pockets and dishonest advertising, the industry fabricates the illusion of happy times and booze. In fact, the truth is the exact opposite. Alcohol destroys lives.

    Successive governments have embraced the flawed belief that the booze industry generates national revenue through tax and so have given it their support. Again, the truth is the opposite. The social costs of booze far outweigh any tax generated from the liquor industry.

    The Road Accident Fund alone costs our government more than the revenue gleaned, with the majority of deaths on the roads in our country alcohol-related.

    As an intern working in Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, I experienced first hand the dramatic effects of people spending their wages on booze. Fights, stabbings, murders, car accidents, family beatings. The list was endless, with a direct correlation overwhelmingly evident.

    As to the tavern and club owners who are bleating vociferously that it will curb their profits, I say: Stop being greedy! Start being more socially responsible. How drunk do you want people to get so you can make more money to feed your avarice? Do you ever wonder how the youngsters who stagger out of your establishments at 3am get home safely?

    I sincerely hope that national government will support this campaign and, furthermore, follow through with its promise to ban alcohol ­advertising completely. It’s time to do the right thing. — Boris Weissmuller, Cape Town

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