Letters to the editor: March 27 to April 1 2015

Unhelpful: Sweeping claims and simplistic solutions hinder transformation at universities, writes a reader. (Paul Botes, M&G)

Unhelpful: Sweeping claims and simplistic solutions hinder transformation at universities, writes a reader. (Paul Botes, M&G)

Beyond the pale

Freedom Maqabane makes the important point that transformation of universities is still a challenge (”Self-serving universities have lost the equity plot”). We all agree. Despite the gains made since 1994, we at Higher Education South Africa (Hesa) will be first to acknowledge that progress in student access is uneven.
But Maqabane puts forward a number of factual inaccuracies, particularly on the purpose and findings of Hesa’s Study on Remuneration of Academics, and more broadly about the perceived role played by vice-chancellors in transformation. Some of the inaccuracies are detailed below.

Maqabane says Hesa “represent[s] the country’s vice-chancellors”. But Hesa is an association of South African universities, established by them to promote their interests. We create an environment in which universities can prosper, enabling them to contribute to social and economic development. Vice-chancellors, as the accounting officers of the member universities, sit on the Hesa board to ensure that their universities’ interests are served.

Hesa’s positions are mainly the sum of those taken by specific universities through their internal structures. Thus it is not true that in the study vice-chancellors “are reporting on themselves”. The report sought to understand the remuneration packages of academics relative to equivalent positions in the public and private sectors. Its findings give us a baseline to work from.

The Hesa report is “another of its ploys to request additional money for higher education”, says Maqabane. This is speculative reasoning. The purpose of the study was to produce a report for Hesa on the remuneration of academic staff and remuneration trends at individual South African universities and in higher education as a whole. Academic remuneration is one of the biggest costs in universities. Hesa has not taken a position on the matter.

It is disingenuous to allege that leaders of our institutions “have lost the plot and are becoming worse than apartheid’s leaders”. Maqabane’s assertion is beyond the pale. The danger, when engaging on difficult issues, is to offer simplistic, anecdotal and pedestrian solutions to complex challenges.

First, Maqabane offers no evidence for his claim, except a single example of unfair practices at an unnamed university. Second, he blames the slow progress in transformation, personally, on a vice-chancellor: this is unfair, in that he acknowledges “there is still a deeply ingrained … self-maintaining power” at universities.

Counter to this are the facts that between 1994 and 2014 student enrolments doubled. More equitable access to higher education and a more representative student body have been realised. By 2013, more than 80% of the total student body of close to one million were black, and 58% were women.

Through its transformation strategy group, Hesa will facilitate sector-wide action to create welcoming institutional cultures in our universities, transform the academic profession and build on initiatives to transform curricula. We acknowledge that progress has been disappointingly slow in some areas, but Maqabane’s sweeping claims are without foundation. To accelerate transformation, we need all stakeholders to offer solutions, not just lament the perceived state of affairs. – Dr Jeffrey Mabelebele, chief executive of Hesa

No, sir, the only assault here is yours

Moshoeshoe Monare’s article headlined “Helen Zille has assaulted press freedom” is a disgraceful piece of journalism. Is it fuelled by his resentment because Zille complained about his work at his previous job at the Cape Times?

This is not quite the standard of objectivity expected of a newspaper that I respect. The wicked and mischievous headline masks an opportunity to rubbish Zille: it is reminiscent of the tabloids of the gutter press in Britain.

In civilised democracies, quality newspapers ask for interviews when writing about politicians, instead of dredging up what could appear to be an ancient festering grudge.

As a casual reader of the Cape Times, I would rate it at as a large-format community paper, basically a vehicle for advertising revenue. Without Zille, however, we would not have known about the highly subsidised ANC-backed New Age breakfast show and this abuse of taxpayers’ money. 

This is the real question: Why should local and national government departments have a subscription to any newspaper? Anyone who wants to read the Cape Times can still do so online, or at their own expense, so where’s the assault on press freedom?

It is press freedom that allows Monare to write such vilification. It allows him to accuse Zille of hypo-crisy. I expect the same press freedom will ensure my letter is published without being edited. – Tom Morgan

• I refer to the bigoted, warped and inaccurate article by your deputy editor on Zille’s “assault on press freedom”. When I first read this article, I thought I was reading the Cape Times, or has Dr Iqbal Survé taken control of the Mail & Guardian, the only newspaper that has, up to now, had faultless reporting? – Ted Jordan, Somerset West

No impunity for Moz’s political killers

      Protests after the death of Constitutional lawyer Gilles Cistac
Intolerance: Constitutional lawyer Gilles Cistac is the latest in a line of Mozambican figures who have been assassinated. (Adrien Barbier)

We are writing to condemn the death threats against Mozambican intellectuals, which culminated in the murder of Gilles Cistac in Maputo on March 3. Cistac (54) was a Mozambican constitutional lawyer at Maputo’s Eduardo Mondlane University.

He was shot dead outside a city centre café by an armed group of four in a speeding car. His assassination was preceded by a social media hate campaign against him. He had submitted a complaint about this campaign to the attorney general’s office.

Cistac’s name was the first on a list of Mozambican intellectuals targeted by an unspecified group of militants. This death list was made public in a sinister operation using Facebook messages. It lists the names of academics and journalists with different political identities and positions. This unspecified group of fanatics seems determined to shut down any political space for opposition parties and groups. This death list includes the names of neoliberals, Marxists and moderates such as Cistac. As such, it constitutes more of a defence of narrow factionalism and petty political interests than it does any specific, alternative political positioning.

We express our worries here because the targeted intellectuals have not been offered any kind of personal protection or security measures. 

Cistac’s name joins those on a long list of assassinations, including president Samora Machel, anti-corruption journalist Carlos Cardoso, economist António Siba-Siba Macuácua and judge Dinis Silica. Cistac’s proposal for open debate was an attempt to resolve a current constitutional impasse, a proposal that some doubtless perceived as giving a certain political advantage to Renamo, the main opposition party. Renamo did reasonably well in the elections of October 2014, unexpectedly so, and so might once again be seen as threatening the status quo.

The group behind this crime is alleged to be ill-educated, unemployed young people manipulated by those seeking to defend their political and economic interests. They are not merely trolls on social media, but thugs and assassins.

We condemn the defamation campaign staged on Facebook by a group of Mozambican extremists with fascist undertones. The unfounded accusations against Cistac ranged from racial issues and sexual orientation to allegations of working for foreign secret services. This disgraceful discourse signals the deterioration of the intellectual climate in the country.

Cistac was only one of many intellectuals who continue to take controversial positions that open up space for democratic debate. He was prominent in public discussions about constitutional issues in Mozambique and had served on several public boards as an expert on constitutional matters. Hence his murder is connected to the role he was playing in a debate over the devolution of powers to the provinces (see Mediafax, March 6). The debate was marked by the arrogant and undemocratic ways of specific factions and interests within the ruling party, which are striving to impose their view on national unity.

On March 7, demonstrations were held in Maputo to show solidarity with people such as Cistac and to protest against this ruthless act of political violence. The Mozambican Catholic Church has expressed concern over the unabated process of capital accumulation and land grabs perpetuated by the Mozambican elites. 

We write in solidarity with all the Mozambicans who dared to protest against this violence. We express our deepest concern about the potential consequences of impunity for Cistac’s killers and their instigators.

Impunity will send the message that political violence against intellectuals is tolerated. If unchallenged, the threats, murders and fear will increase, which would kill the rigour and integrity with which interested citizens provide essential oversight of their governments.

Our question to the murderers is: Who is the enemy in Mozambique today? – Editorial working group of the Review of African Political Economy: Hakim Adi, Alex Beresford, Janet Bujra, Ray Bush, Reg Cline-Cole, Hannah Cross, Peter Dwyer, Alastair Fraser, Elisa Grec, Branwen Gruffydd Jones, Philippa Hall, Graham Harrison, Gary Littlejohn, Gabrielle Lynch, Fortunate Machingira, Claire Mercer, Sara Pantuliano, Matteo Rizzo, David Simon, Clare Smedley, Colin Stoneman, Tunde Zack Williams, Leo Zeilig

Restoration, not retribution

Was Rhodes a racist? Yes. A narcissist? Yes. A colonist? Definitely.

However, I do not think that tearing down the statue of Rhodes is the answer to the systemic racism at UCT. We need to be mindful of the role history plays in our lives. Do we burn Mein Kampf because it represented the views of one of history’s most evil, racist dictators? No. We don’t have to praise the book, but we don’t eradicate it from the earth’s existence either. It is important to allow the narrative of history to penetrate our lives today, to remind us of where we came from and why we will not accept going back there.

Would Rhodes have condemned the presence of fellow brown and black students and myself at UCT? Most likely. However, my way of sticking it to him is by walking past that statue every day with a smirk on my face, to have him watch me walk the very land he gave for UCT to be built on. Let him see us, as we see him, and allow tolerance to triumph. Instead of destroying the historical figures we do not like, we should demand that we be inserted in to the historical narrative of UCT.

Perhaps we should erect a student declaration next to the Rhodes statue stating that though we are not inspired by nor happy with his image, we do recognise the role history plays in our lives and will exercise tolerance and forgiveness imparted to us by Madiba, Desmond Tutu, the TRC and the countless freedom fighters who fought and died for our democracy. This is how we make our history.

It is not the time for destruction; it is the time for enlightenment. Let the legacy of Rhodes wither away, but leave the statue as a reminder of what we will never allow ourselves and our country to be reduced to again. This is the test our generation faces, and this is the test we must succeed at: restoration, not retribution. – Uvania Naidoo, MA candidate, UCT

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