Open Letter to UCT, from academics and postgraduate students

As post grad students, and support staff in various teaching, research and administrative positions at the University of Cape Town, across various departments, we are concerned about the on-going hostility on campus and the danger it poses to students’ emotional, physical and mental well-being – and our own. We understand this heightened tension principally as the result of the looming possibility, and now the reality of security presence on campus.

As many have cited, this hostile presence has had a tendency to escalate into destruction, with state and private forces agitating and harassing students. In that breath we would also like to note that security personnel hired by the university are principally hired to protect private property rather than ensure public safety. This means that in the event of any incident, the lives and well-being of students, most particularly black students who have been implicitly and explicitly characterised by the university and lecturers as “violent”, “intimidating” “thugs” – could be jeopardised to fulfil this mandate.

It is for these reasons that we do not see private security as a solution.

Naturally, the most effective solution would be to heed the call for free, decolonial education and so, we firstly, call upon the University to publicly and directly address its position on this matter and thus clarify whether it will be enforcing the fee increase as proposed by Nzimande.We believe that this would aide students and institutions in creating clear strategies to ensure that free, decolonial education is put into motion.

We see it as telling that management and all those with influence in the institution, including many lecturers and their reticent departments; have remained silent and inactive, thus failing to fulfil their mandates as leaders at a public institution. It is in fact a general symptom of the rot and lack of leadership that underlies such a dysfunctional, colonialist institution. However, we challenge those departments, lecturers and otherwise lone voices both within and outside the institution, who do believe in the decolonial agenda to show moral leadership by acting and speaking up in the face of brutality and injustice. If they do not we take their silence and inaction as complicity in the preservation of the institution as a colonial, elitist, patriarchal and racist establishment.

Secondly, we call on the University to remove, and publicly commit to having removed, all private security from campus immediately and in doing so ensure an environment conducive to learning and returning to the project of free, decolonial education.

Thirdly, we see the immediate lifting of interdicts on protesting students as the natural starting point for a productive resolution-a resolution which does not use punishment or violence as a way forward. We condemn the use of interdicts, the threat of private security and the overpowering use of law as a disproportionate, and ultimately inhumane response to students’ cry for change.

As support staff and post graduate students, we are committed to a decolonised education project and to our students. Thus we see it as our responsibility to ensure a safe learning environment. Such a safe environment is one where students, and all those who support them, do not have to suffer the trauma of surveillance, the constant threat to their physical bodies, or the brutalization of their psyche and spirit through a curriculum and pedagogy that dehumanizes them, and fails to address the most immediate needs of their communities, and the society as a whole.

We will not return to such a toxic climate, and in doing so support an institution which only speaks in the language of violence. We cannot return to teach at a university that continues to be silent and inactive on the issues that matter-free, decolonial education.

We look forward to decisive, conscious action on achieving free decolonial education, and a return to an education project and a campus which is, as such, responsible and humane.

Signed:
Mwinji Siame, Kyla Hazell, Claire Smyth, Ayanda Mahlaba, Aderinsola Adebulehin, Sara Smit, Mamello Mosiana, Gina Fourie, Lynford Dor, B Camminga, Emma Arugondade, Nicole Daniels, Claire Tapscott, Kesley Quinn, Fowzia Davids, Anthea Tariro Zvobgo, Alex Stonehouse, Esethu Cenga, Gianna Maita, Tim Geschwindt, Chad Capon, Robyn Ausmeier, Shaun Kraak, Emily Gammon, Andre Prado Fernandez, Parusha Naidoo.

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2 Comments

  1. Michael Taylor says

    A great and appropriate letter

  2. Pierre says

    This letter reiterates some very valid points, it is a pity that it resorts to name calling to strengthen it’s arguments. The decolonization catch all phrase rather needs to rather be substituted for practical solutions to what is being faced by the students and the organization.

    The letter mentions that the institution is colonial, elitist while in the next paragraph saying that should continue the project of decolonization. This is a path and not a destination, only with all parties (government should be mentioned) can this be resolved when there isn’t a threat from either side to extreme tactics.

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