Iqbal Surve dumps UCT over 'lip service'

Iqbal Survé has lambasted what he describes as the 'charlatans [who] parade as agents for change' at the University of Cape Town. (Lerato Maduna, Gallo)

Iqbal Survé has lambasted what he describes as the 'charlatans [who] parade as agents for change' at the University of Cape Town. (Lerato Maduna, Gallo)

Media tycoon Iqbal Survé has resigned from various University of Cape Town (UCT) bodies over what he claims is the university’s lack of transformation.

In a hard-hitting letter in December to UCT vice-chancellor Max Price, a copy of which the Mail & Guardian has obtained, Survé confirmed his “termination of all associations” with the university.

His claims have received Price’s – and some of his executives’ – adamant disagreement, partial assent and continuing engrossment.

Survé‘s core reason was his inability to “respect an institution that continues to pay lip service to … transformation”, as his letter puts it.

The chairperson of the UCT council, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, advised the M&G that “the best person to respond to this is [Price]” (see below).

University councils oversee an institution’s financial health and appoint its vice-chancellors, who report to the council.

Both Price and Survé were at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week.

‘Regrettable support’
Survé‘s letter strongly contests UCT’s commitment to serving the country. He claims the university “continues to disguise its true intentions – which [are] about jobs for pals [and] retaining privilege and power for a few individuals, and … makes excuses for [its] lack of transformation”.

Survé says he “regrettably supported” Price’s appointment as UCT vice-chancellor. “I look forward to [the] day when I can again engage [Price] as a friend and as an individual genuinely committed to the process of transformation and as someone who is brave enough to tackle the charlatans [who] parade as agents for change in your ranks,” his letter reads.

“I do hope that day comes sooner [rather] than later,” it says. Survé concludes by asking Price “please [to] accept this letter as confirmation” of his resignation “and termination of all associations with” UCT, the Graduate School of Business, the alumni association and the governors’ committee of the UCT Foundation Trust. Survé advised the foundation on fundraising.

Of the graduate school, whose advisory board he chaired, he wrote that he would “work with” it so that his resignation provides an “orderly” leadership transition and “does not cause any disruption”.

A senior academic at a South African university, with extensive experience of teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students and participating in university management, and who asked not to be named, said: “I understand the ‘black African’ rage in our universities. I don’t disagree.

“UCT’s vice-chancellor is unfairly criticised sometimes but, as far as I can see, there seems to be a disinclination to change age-old ways of operating.”

Criticism
Following a comment piece criticising UCT published in newspapers owned by Independent Media, which Survé bought in 2013 (see below), a certain “Jacoob Adams” posted a message on the website White Pages, a free “people search” service.

It said: “I know of three staff members who left UCT after realising that they would not be promoted despite their sterling research track record.” The academics named in Adams’s message have been extensively published in the fields of medical biochemistry, engineering and computer science respectively.

“Who would have thought that, more than 20 years into our democracy, it will still be appropriate to invoke the slogan: ‘A luta continua!’” he wrote. 

Survé‘s letter makes no reference to his attendance of his daughter’s graduation ceremony at UCT last year, at which Alide Dasnois was the guest speaker. Dasnois was fired from the Cape Times in 2013, where she was the paper’s editor.

The M&G asked him about this, but the answer the paper received made no reference to the incident.

Survé‘s letter does, however, make more general reference to graduation ceremonies: “It is well documented in UCT’s own research that black students were made to feel unwelcome outsiders and never allowed to have a sense of belonging at the university.

“It is for that reason that many black students refused to participate in the extramural activities of the university and/or the formal ceremonies, such as the graduation ceremony. I was therefore glad to see that the university has recently announced that it is allowing those black students that did not wish to graduate then to do so over the next few years at their election.”

‘Missing’ apology
Even this has failed to assuage Survé‘s outrage, however. He continues: “What is, however, patently missing from the leadership of the university is an unqualified apology by the university to its black students during the apartheid years.”

This apology “should be forthcoming from both the vice-chancellor’s office and the senate of the university”, the letter says.

“There were, of course, many more thousands of black students who had the potential to succeed at UCT but were denied entry due to the quota system and the permit requirement. It is a matter of

record that UCT was complicit in implementing this apartheid legislation while paying lip service to the need for the institution to be nonracial.”

The M&G received no reply to its question asking what benefits UCT had received from Survé‘s association with it – be they financial or marketing related, or through raised awareness of its high academic and research status, nationally and worldwide.

But on that subject, his letter says: “One of the reasons that I acquired the largest print media group in South Africa, with a daily readership of five million and online readership of about two million, is that I wish to create the opportunity for South Africans to participate publicly in the discourse on transformation and social cohesion.

“Similarly, as you may have read in the [p]ast two weeks, I am launching an Africa news syndication service and a Pan-African news channel in about 50 countries in order to ensure that as Africans we are able to embrace the transformation requirements of our continent … That does, however, mean that I have to be outspoken where I see that these principles are not being upheld. I am not a hypocrite and therefore I personally cannot be associated with institutions that charade as upholding these principles.”


UCT: There’s more to do, but we are committed to transformation

Replying to the M&G‘s inquiries on behalf of Max Price, Gerda Kruger, the director of marketing and communication at the University of Cape Town (UCT), said: “Dr Iqbal Survé raises multiple issues in his confidential letter to Dr Max Price, vice-chancellor of UCT. Some points are valid and important; others we fundamentally dis-agree with. We have taken the matter up with Dr Survé directly.

“Prior to the letter UCT and Dr Survé had been in discussions for a while around various matters, including his position at UCT’s Graduate School of Business. We will continue to pursue conversations of mutual importance and interest.

“We particularly disagree with the notion that UCT is not committed to transformation. The vice-chancellor, council, leadership, management and many UCT staff and students are consumed by this complex issue. In many aspects we have succeeded in deeply important ways. In other areas we face unmet challenges, many experienced by other institutions as well.

“There is much more to do and, as a committed South African institution, we will continue to serve our country and its people as well as our continent through our deep dedication to research, teaching and social responsiveness. We are fully committed to the challenge.”


Media accused of ‘sinister agenda’

Zenariah Barends, Independent Media’s chief of staff, responded as follows to the M&G‘s questions: “Dr [Iqbal] Survé is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos and will not be responding to media inquiries addressed to him until his return.

“I note the tone of your questions and it is more of the same from the M&G, which, since the Independent acquisition in 2013, has consistently run numerous articles that attempt to demonise Dr Survé and Independent Media.

“It is noted that the M&G is a competitor media [company] that unsuccessfully attempted to purchase Independent titles from the Irish and current owners.”

During “a cursory search” this week, Barends found articles carried in City Press and on BDlive, and an academic piece from the University of California, that focus on UCT’s transformation.

“Does this imply that M&G, City Press, BDlive, etcetera, have a sinister agenda towards UCT – which you are insinuating with the piece you are writing about Dr Survé and Independent?” Barends said.


Right of reply: full response from Zenariah Barends’, Independent Media’s chief of staff on behalf of Iqbal Survé

I note the tone of your questions and it is more of the same from the M&G, which since the Independent acquisition in 2013 has consistently run numerous articles which attempt to demonise Dr Surve and Independent Media. It is noted that M&G are a competitor media, which unsuccessfully attempted to purchase Independent titles from the Irish and current owners.

As a matter of interest,  the writer of the article on UCT that appeared in our titles,  Siona O’Connell, addressed the M&G Literary Festival last year. This address was published in M&G in September 2014 titled “UCT: A campus at odds with itself”. 

Similarly, during a cursory search earlier I found the following articles carried in City Press and on BDlive respectively:  10 steps to develop black professors and Xolela Mangcu: How to have a real debate on affirmative action.

And this academic piece from the University of California e-scholarship site:  The Tricameral Academy: Personal Reflections on Universities and History Departments in ‘Post-Apartheid’ South Africa.

I am sure if I continue to search I can find additional material on sites other than Independent Media which references the issue of transformation at UCT. Does this imply that M&G, City Press, BDlive etc have a sinister agenda towards UCT - which you are insinuating with the piece you are writing about Dr Surve and Independent?


Right of reply: Gerda Kruger, Executive Director: Communication and Marketing Department, University of Cape Town, on behalf of Max Price

Dr Iqbal Survé raises multiple issues in his confidential letter to Dr Max Price, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town. 

Some points are valid and important, others we fundamentally disagree with. We have taken the matter up with Dr Survé directly.   

Prior to the letter UCT and Dr Survé have been in discussions for a while around various matters including his position at UCT’s Graduate School of Business (GSB). We will continue to pursue conversations of mutual importance and interest.   We particularly disagree with the notion that UCT is not committed to transformation. 

The Vice-Chancellor, Council, leadership, management and many UCT staff and students are consumed by this complex issue. In many aspects we have succeeded in deeply important ways. In other areas we face unmet challenges, many experienced by other institutions as well. There is much more to do and as a committed South African institution we will continue to serve our country and its people as well as our continent through our deep dedication to research, teaching and social responsiveness. We are fully committed to the challenge.   

On a point of clarity:

  • Dr Survé is an alumnus of UCT.
  • He was a member of the Governors Committee of the UCT Foundation Trust whose role was envisaged as to advise on fundraising matters. The terms of office ended on 31 December 2014.
  • He served as Chair of the Advisory Board of UCT’s GSB (not the governing body). The Advisory Board advises the Director of the GSB on issues of interest to the GSB.
 
David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane is currently the Mail & Guardian's education editor. He obtained an honours degree in English literature, a fairly unpopular choice among those who'd advised him to study something that would give him a real career and a pension plan. David joined the M&G in the late 1990s. There, the publication's youth – which was nearly everyone except him – also tried to further his education. Since April 2010, he's participated in the largest expansion of education coverage the M&G Media has ever undertaken. He says he's "soon" going on "real annual leave", which will entail "switching off this smart phone the M&G youth told me I needed".   Read more from David Macfarlane

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