Science decolonisers “reprehensible”, says top UCT scientist after watching THIS video

Some label the students pushing for the abolition of university tuition fees and the decolonisation of universities African nationalist fascists. Others call them Fallists, in a reference to the hashtag campaigns #FeesMustFall. It’s no longer fees that must fall, however; everything that looks anything like it came from Europe must fall. For an indication of how warped the arguments for free tuition and decolonisation have become, watch the video below. It is both illuminating and scary to see the kind of thinking that is dominating student leadership circles. Apart from bizarre logic, there’s a viciousness about the students who are calling the shots at campuses. It is easy to believe that the most talented academics will be considering their options and seeking employment elsewhere, though Emeritus Professor Tim Crowe still has hope sanity will ultimately prevail. In this piece, Professor Crowe provides an in-depth perspective on the “disruption, destruction and decolonisation” of the University of Cape Town, which he evidently holds dear. – Jackie Cameron

By Tim Crowe*

Despite the fact that I have commented repeatedly on the socio-academic situation at UCT, in the light of new developments, I am compelled to comment further, this time as a scientist.

This is because, in the last few days:

  • There has been a severe, destructive attack near (and on) the building housing the Department of Earth Sciences.
  • UCT VC Max Price was physically assaulted when he refused to support the release of a law-breaking, Fallist ‘protester’.
  • There was a panel discussion held at UCT in conjunction with the Faculty of Science in which #ScienceMustFall protesters clearly articulated their views on “decolonizing” science.
  • When he complained about the lack of leadership and the sense of alienation and disaffection of many academics, students and their parents in the absence of meaningful dialogue, let along productive negotiation, a deeply concerned alumnus/student-parent received only hackneyed platitudes from the Executive.
  • When I contacted many staff whom I have known and respected over the decades about the disruptions at UCT, one highly regarded academic indicated that he strongly supports the Fallists.
  • Despite all this, the UCT Executive has continued to cancel lectures and Jammie transport to campus and keep libraries closed so that it can prolong ‘negotiations’ with law-breakers who resolutely refuse to to subject themselves to justice (restorative or otherwise).
Emeritus Professor Tim Crowe highlights some of the ingredients required to ensure a world-class university
Emeritus Professor Tim Crowe

Now to my comments.

The attack on the Earth Sciences Building resulted in the burning of yet another bakkie. Worse still, a second “petrol bomb was thrown against the building” and may have “damaged a ventilation system that serves the geological sciences laboratory, which houses highly sensitive equipment worth millions of rands”.  Without this equipment, researchers and their students cannot function academically.

As much as I disapprove of the VC and his Executive’s actions and inactions over the last 18 months, I would never sanction anything other than written condemnation of or peaceful demonstration against him. If anything, he has coddled Fallists and their nefarious kith and kin from the very beginning of the ‘movements’ (“political projects” according to Chumani Maxwele).

This makes persistent intimidation/attacks (including arson) of/on him by Fallists much more reprehensible.  Yet he remains desperate to cater to their demands. Hopefully, its Council, Senate and the UCT Community (especially key donors) will finally take cognizance of this failed judgment and act responsibly.  In the meantime, the “silenced majority” withers.

The panel ‘discussion’ video controlled by #ScienceMustFallists and viewed by >260,000 on U-Tube was, if anything, even more disturbing. The key speaker, a ‘student’ from outside the Faculty of Science, derided science as enshrined unshakable “truth” developed and driven as “Western modality”.  Therefore, because it is “pathetic to say the least”, “the whole thing should be scratched off” and/or “done away with entirely and starting all over again … to conform to our lived experience.” In her view, the role of new Afrocentric science was to “explain beliefs”.  Her sole example was the “ability of people to send lightning to strike someone”.

When someone in the audience took exception to this interpretation, he was silenced immediately and allowed to remain only if he “apologized” and agreed to remain silent. He was accused of using “western modality” to “disrespect sacred space” and “trying to collapse proceedings into an antagonizing space”.   What is needed is “internal decolonization of the mind” to set things right.

This sort of behaviour reminds one of Mao Zedong’s social engineering during the 1960s Cultural Revolution that used young people, known as the Red Guards, to grossly denigrate (often murder) their parents and other authority figures, especially university academics.

Speculation aside, this video indicates a Fallist, decolonized view within which beliefs are the rule and the new Afrocentric science acts merely as a confirmatory tool to help the “re-educated and decolonized-minded” to reinforce beliefs within “safe, sacred spaces”.  Now I see that the eminent cyber journal, The Conversation, has published an article promoting the ‘decolonization’ of Mathematics, arguably the ‘purest’ of the sciences.  So far, this ‘new’ “ethno-mathematics” has elicited no response from a UCT-based mathematician. Very scary indeed. Please re-read “Lord of the Flies”.

The concerned alumnus/parent (now my friend and confidant), like the widely published and read public intellectuals the ‘Johnsons’ (Thomas and Bill), has ‘written off’ the UCT Executive as an emasculated entity lost in endless negotiation and capitulation, failing to reach ever-shifting goalposts. On the other side of the negotiating table are duplicitous and/or powerless ‘leaders’ of factions who make ludicrous and dangerous demands, and repeatedly and capriciously renege on painstakingly crafted compacts. In the meantime, in between time, they incite callow fellow-students with inflammatory, racist, binary and zero-sum rhetoric to perform “democratic violence”.

Like my friend, I believe that universities ought to be marketplaces of ideas, amongst many other things.  Without the give and take of intellectual discourse and debate, universities devolve into nothing more than glorified training colleges. Meaningful post-graduate education and research become unfulfilled dreams.  In the end, this alienates the brightest and best young academics, the public and the majority of students and brings the university into disrepute as it moves from protest to mayhem and riots.

My academic colleague who supports the Fallists said that he is “completely exhilarated by the outcome” and “hopes of it [UCT] being converted into an educational institution from the propaganda machine it has been for its entire history”.  In support of his position, he cites “cultural values and perspectives on transformation that are poles apart”.  But, when I asked him to engage on our alleged differences he responded as follows: “The divide is so wide and has existed for so long, that any common ground from which we could embark on a discussion has long since disappeared into the abyss. I do not accept responsibility for that divide. I have spent all my life understanding racism and racists and the oppressive systems of colonialism, slavery and apartheid that they spawned”. He also accuses me of “self-identifying“ with anti-transformists. Heavy and damning words indeed.

Despite this, like many others at UCT, I self-identify with myself and still live in hope.

  • Emeritus Professor Tim Crowe has been associated with the University of Cape Town for more than four decades as a science student, educator/researcher/Elected Fellow.  He is the husband and colleague of a UCT science student/specialist science educator/researcher (also connected for 40+ years) and the parent of a UCT graduate. For more information on Tim, click here.
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