​Newspapers distort dean selection process

It is unfortunate that journalists fail to address a fundamental issue such as the nature and genuineness of their sources.

It is unfortunate that journalists fail to address a fundamental issue such as the nature and genuineness of their sources.

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UCT Black Academic Caucus

Two recent articles — “UCT academics cry foul over dean’s appointment process” (Mail & Guardian, October 25) and “UCT vice-chancellor allowed use of resources to push dean appointment” (City Press, October 28) have sought to bring the integrity of the acting dean, Shose Kessi, and the commitment of the Black Academic Caucus (BAC) to equity into question.

This rejoinder is three pronged: it highlights the scarce and problematic nature of evidence provided in the articles and questions the legitimacy of the article’s sources; it corrects some misconstrued facts in the articles; and it draws attention to the ways in which the articles seek to impinge on the dignity of all black women academics who have been at the heart of the University of Cape Town’s humanities dean’s selection process.

The articles rely on a letter and unattributed statements made by a purported collective called the 27-ers.
The readers are led to assume that this purported group consists of academics who supported Grace Khunou’s candidacy for the dean’s position. The vote was a closed ballot. Several people who voted for Khunou also voted for Kessi when a vote to support her candidacy took place — weeks later. Supporting the one candidate does not mean the opposition of another candidate.

Some members of the BAC who supported Khunou declare that the 27-ers do not represent them. Who then are the 27-ers? Are they one or two academics hiding behind a gang-style name trying to cloak themselves as righteous warriors for equity while hurling unfounded allegations at black women academics?

READ MORE: ‘No place for black academics’

It is unfortunate that journalists fail to address a fundamental issue such as the nature and genuineness of their sources. Furthermore, they do not seek to understand the specificities of the academic and higher education space, nor are they able to come to grips with nuances of university processes. Instead they seek to cast the latter as a cloak-and-dagger, high-stakes political game and miss the simple point that, unlike party politicians, academics apply for and do not campaign for their posts.

The City Press article casts aspersions on a recent University of Cape Town seminar series titled Citizenship and Violence: Resilient Colonialism, Xenophobia and Femicide. The article alleges that its organisation was part of a campaign to win the dean’s position. It ignores the fact that this series was a necessary discursive space following the death of the UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana and many others. This initiative was an attempt to debate the issues underlying xenophobic and gender-based violence, comprehend them and enable the university community to heal through conversation. To call this seminar series a campaign is misguided.

Contrary to the allegation in the article that the series was organised under the acting dean’s name as a singular entity, the posters clearly state that “the office of the acting dean of humanities and the postgraduate student council” were presenting the series.

The City Press article also seeks to present the BAC as a divided house. No member of the BAC has openly stated an unreconcilable difference. In other words, there is no evidence of this division.

We take employment equity seriously. We have a track record of the work that has been done over the years. This includes changing the composition of selection committees, changing how various structures include often juniorised black staff. Based on the work of black academics, more South African black postgraduate students, postdoctoral candidates and incoming staff members have been recruited. Black staff have also been supported towards progressing in academic rank and being in leadership positions.

Like so many others, members of the BAC work continually to make UCT a more equal and just place; our tasks range from student admission, staff selection, student instruction, designing and implementing a transformed/decolonial curriculum, carrying out and supporting research for the country, the continent and on a more global scale, to mentorship of a new generation of black students.

Organising seminars, colloquia and hubs to foster new thinking is a part of that work that the acting dean and others have been doing for a long time. The articles, relying on the so-called 27-ers, view this work through the prism of pure instrumentality and give a reductive, caricatured picture of the xenophobia seminars, and of the decolonial hub, and all the work that the BAC and the acting dean have been doing. This simplistic, reductive view of black scholars working in a complex and challenging environment is itself a kind of injustice to them.

We have on many occasions taken up the issue of selection processes and procedures for senior management personnel at UCT. As it stands, the BAC submitted a comprehensive proposal, through the transformation forum, for the restructuring of transformation committees at UCT. This proposal, we believe, will go a long way to get to the root of the problems we face. It will enable us to focus on the structural problems rather than the symptoms.

Our commitment to employment equity has taken us to the courts to fight for a black South African who was an A-candidate and categorised as appointable but was not appointed. The Ramugondo affair is a case in point. Those who truly believe in employment equity should join us in advocating for this case.

Advocating for this should not mean trampling on other black people and their individual rights to apply and find ways to grow in the university. This is the main principle. The decolonial project necessitates black solidarity in realising a truly African university. We cannot lose sight of this bigger goal. We will not sacrifice one black scholar over another. We supported all shortlisted candidates — they competed according to the university’s processes and members made individual choices in that process.

Alongside supporting local employment equity and affirmative action policies, we also embrace pan-Africanist ideals and recognise that the oppression, marginalisation and exclusion of black people was also experienced by and affected those in the diaspora and global South. We will thus not be held accountable to one and not others. Just as our histories and our struggles are intertwined, so should our efforts at undoing the past and hopes for the future be interlinked.

We work tirelessly to change the humiliating, isolating and racialising nature of UCT, but we will not accept any rhetoric that divides us as black people, nor will we accept the level of contempt and intimidation in the recent media articles. The ad hominem attacks in it are unwarranted and destructive. It is the black women who are being used as shields in a battle waged by a phantom hiding behind a number.

Dr Ruchi Chaturvedi, Dr Asanda Benya, Professor Azeem Badroodien and Dr Nomusa Makhubu contributed to this article.

UCT Black Academic Caucus

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