Future UCT generations to pay a maximum Price – Ed Herbst

CAPE TOWN — Sometimes the essence of a debate is best contextualised and summarised by an intermediary or perhaps more accurately here, facilitator, which is the role veteran journalist and political observer Ed Herbst plays for UCT’s most outspoken anti-Fallist academic, Professor Tim Crowe. That anarchy was allowed and freedom of expression heavily suppressed at UCT in recent years is hardly a matter for debate. The irony is that former Vice Chancellor Max Price would probably argue that he was allowing freedom of expression in giving the Fallists what the authors see as untrammelled free reign. Just why and how that happened – and the ultimately academically-damaging legacy – is what this article deals with. Some luminaries whose work was either damaged by Fallists or removed by themselves in protest are of a strongly like-mind and Herbst quotes them to reveal how the recent anarchy violated UCT’s underpinning values and academic ethics. The damaging legacy of Vice Chancellor Max Price will be felt for many years to come, the authors contend. – Chris Bateman

By Ed Herbst*

I have no means of contacting Max Price or any of his stalwart minions directly to convey my sentiment of disgust, and can only hope for this missive to reach them through you. And while at it, I wish to thank them for the decency of having informed me about the incident, and the sterling bravery of their intellectual steadfastness… – Breyten Breytenbach Daily Maverick 5/4/2016

By the logic of the Price administration, the removals are justified as part of an ongoing process based on the short-term recommendations made by the Artworks Task Team (ATT) earlier this year. Both Price and Moholola have relied heavily on these recommendations in recent statements. What has never been highlighted, however, is the fact that the administration did all it could to keep the workings of the committee secret, finally releasing its report in response to a PAIA (Promotion of Access to Information Act) application launched by UCT staffer William Daniels, in the interests of public accountability.

The point here is that this is not really about art nor about learning. The narrative engaged by UCT’s student militants is bluntly, brutally and convulsively political in ways that have more in common with the conventions of warfare than they do with parliamentary processes. This is about a struggle for the control and ownership of resources, a winner-takes-all model in which the old is obliterated and a tabula rasa is created on which to inscribe the new. – Ivor Powell Art Times 2/8/2017

Veteran journalist Ed Herbst

In 1977 as a camera reporter working for SABC TV News in its Pretoria office, I filmed Breyten Breytenbach being led out of court and into a waiting prison vehicle to continue his nine-year sentence – which was reduced by two years due to massive international pressure.

Fast forward to 2016 and Breytenbach, whose art, according to Wikipedia, has been exhibited in Hong Kong, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels, Edinburgh and New York City, learns through a GroundUp article that, as a consequence of the actions of the Fallist rabble at UCT, one of his paintings has been censored and removed from public display with the full approval of UCT vice-chancellor, Dr Max Price. 

His disgust was echoed by photographer David Goldblatt – who transferred his collection from UCT to Yale in protest against the art censorship of Dr Max Price and his fellow Fallist acolytes – in a GroundUp interview:

Goldblatt said that the events signalled a new tide in the development of anti-democratic thought in today’s youth. “Differences are settled by talk. You don’t threaten with guns. You don’t threaten with fists. You don’t burn. You don’t destroy. You talk. These actions of the students are the antithesis of democratic action,” he said.

“For me, the essential issue was that (the university) was in breach of my freedom of expression. I couldn’t leave my work there… to leave my work there would be to endorse that policy,” said Goldblatt.

Former UCT Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price.

I was reminded of this by the conviction in the past fortnight of two Fallist criminals, Masixole Mlandu and Bonginkosi Khanyile.

One wonders what the 31 UCT academics who, in a GroundUp article, called for less security on the campus, make of the conviction of UCT’s Masixole Mlandu. One trusts that, as principled people, they will raise the funds to appeal his conviction – all the way to the Constitutional Court, if necessary.

In Business Day on 6/5/2016, Simon Lincoln Reader asserted that:

‘RMF didn’t fail just because it was the most confusing, divisive and xenophobic campaign to have featured since 1994, but because it was executed by vile personalities.’

According to reports tabled in parliament by the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, the vile personalities to whom Reader refers caused damage estimated at R850 million in their murderous orgy of violence, in their destructive rampages.

Four people, Sara Gon and Professor David Benatar and Gwen Ngwenya and Professor Tim Crowe have analysed the servile capitulation of the Max Price administration to the Fallists whose constant promotion of ethnic division has been described by Professor Jonathan Jansen as racist.

Crowe thus sums up the Fallist era and the role of Dr Max Price in that time:

During his regime, VC Dr Price ”took his eye off the ball” by failing to appreciate what made his predecessors successful and not. For example, he:

  • continued increasing the numbers of subsidy-earning undergraduate students, especially educationally ‘disabled’ POC undergrads;
  • failed to provide those with valid financial needs with comprehensive financial and other material and socio-psychological support necessary for their high-quality tertiary education;
  • relied primarily on CHED, rather than Core academic departments, to educate those who needed academic support;
  • was unable to attract or develop POC academics to mentor them to their full potential;
  • over-relied on BIG, techno-education and ill-conceived “blended learning”, instead of that based on the principle of in loco parentis; and
  • further empowered an enormously powerful, highly-paid, centralized, unsympathetic bureaucracy that ignored their pleas for institutional transformation and personal help.

Even worse, in 2013, when he attempted to introduce an explicitly non-racial admissions system, Price capitulated to defamatory proto-Fallists. This set the stage for more (and more aggressive) defamation and the violent illegal ‘protests’ that began in 2015.

When small numbers of Fallists hijacked legitimate protests and formed blatantly political, racial, nationalistic, xenophobic and unapologetically violent “Movements” in 2015, rather that acting decisively (as would have his predecessors) and/or consulting the University Community, Price repeatedly capitulated to Fallists’ endless and egregious demands. Bouts of ‘negotiations’ were interspersed by the granting of multiple, blanket, condition-less amnesties. When this strategy led to much more aggressive, illegal, intimidation, destruction and violence and, ultimately, the total shutdown of UCT in 2016, he ignored/bypassed the SRC, Senate and its Committees, and created ad-hoc posts, committees, working groups dominated by Fallists to guide him.

In the end, he added the “straw which has broken the camel’s back” by side-stepping the SRC and deliberately ‘negotiating’ the November 2016 Agreement with nine, unelected, non-representative, highly radical and destructive Fallist lawbreakers (the Shackville TRC). One of whom (Masixole Mlandu) had to be bailed out of jail with Price’s support. A month later, at the 2016 AGM of the UCT Convocation, Gwen Ngwenya (a former SRC President who holds a master’s degree in Economics from the University of Paris, past Chief Operating Officer at the South African Institute of Race Relations and current MP) and I made motions to require VC Price to consult with Convocation members vis-à-vis his negotiating policy with lawbreaking Fallists. This was to no avail. Lawbreaking Fallists invaded the meeting, suppressed discussion of the motions and defamed legitimate Convocation members, me, Gwen and UCT academics who had been intimidated by Fallists and ignored by Price’s Team. Two months later, Price side-stepped Senate and formalized UCT’s relationship with the racially-based, exclusionary, Broederbond-like Black Academic Caucus.

Black Academic Caucus

From this point onwards, academic and artistic freedom and unfettered, uncensored debate ceased at UCT. Power was now effectively transferred to key Fallists (e.g. multi-amnestied and unaccountable sexists Mlandu and Maxwele), gangs of intimidatory Fallists (e.g. the ‘unquotable’ ones from Health Sciences), Fallist ‘special advisors’ (e.g. Elelwani Ramugondo) and Fallist-dominated task and working groups (e.g. the CCWG and ATT). To what extent there were Fallist chief’s of staff, the were the five all-powerful members of the BAC’s Executive Committee.

In July 2017, Price crystalized this de facto situation when he had a cathartic, ‘Damascus Moment’. From then onwards, he openly took the Fallist position that UCT has a “culture” “that reflects the values, aesthetics and norms of white English-speaking South Africa”. She is perfused by a “multiplicity of institutional practices” that have created “the elusive but extremely powerful creature of institutional racism” that “perpetuate[s] racial stereotypes of [white] superiority and [POC] inferiority”. So, in addition to ‘taking his eye off the ball”, he now admits to “cultural blindness” and being “part of [an] entrenched group [‘whites’]”. This long-standing (back to 1829 if you believe Lorna Houston) institutional racism has evaded or escaped detection because it was/is nuanced. This was overcome due to the diligence of Fallist investigators, the CCWG and ATT who point out the following ‘examples’.

UCT’s institutional racism is most obvious in English being the medium of teaching; the university’s art collection (e.g. POC Willie Bester’s sculpture of the Khoikhoi woman, Sarah Baartman); large “social distance” between white lecturers and POC students, who are generally “not being taken [sufficiently] seriously”. With regard to the dominance of English, if UCT were to take Mamdani’s Davie-lecture recommendation seriously and forcibly establish programmes strongly featuring instruction in local African languages, which ones should be chosen (and excluded), and where are the scholars to be hired? With regard to offensive artwork, has the ATT attempted to get Bester to explain the thought processes underpinning his work. I found this one in his fascinating biography: “What I try to get behind is why it is so difficult for people to change from their old ways. It hasn’t worked out the way I imagined. People who thought they were superior before haven’t really changed. I try to find out through studying history what gives people the right to think that way. I try to find a solution, not to be disappointed, to reach an understanding.”

Finally, with regard to narrowing “social distance” between lecturers and students, the new UCT Executive should sponsor ‘happy hours’ at the “Laboratory” (the pub in the UCT Club) encouraging transdisciplinary discussions. I spent many an hour there with colleagues from the Humanities, Engineering, Health Sciences and Commerce. My wife and I ended up drinking tea with Penny Andrews at Starke Ayres. I guess the rule is “whatever and wherever works”.

Regardless, Willie Bester says it best when he recommends “studying history”. This could allow dealing with Convocation President Lorna Houston’s view that:

“The [apartheid] past is still present.”

I hope that this piece falsifies this view. But, if you need a ‘twitter’ answer, my riposte is to quote Ramphele and Ngwenya:

“The past cannot be undone: it has to be transcended.”

“Who speaks on behalf of the future student, the former student whose degree is being eroded, and the current student held to ransom by unelected representatives?”

I’ll leave it to the new VC and Dean of Law to deal with Houston’s controversial views on what constitutes “violence” and “justice”.

If I (and probably many others) could ask VC Price just one more question beyond those asked in our 2.5-hour interview, it would be: What about your promise made on 20 March 2015:

“No-one will be left behind.”?

If I am forced to summarize his legacy to his successor in two telling words they would be:

“hospital pass”.

With regard to the racist/sexist/colonialist UCT ‘sculpture’ created by Beattie and Falconer and profoundly transformed into its antithesis by their successors, where it is not covered by Fallist faeces, it is cloaked with ‘Pricey Context’.

I somehow doubt that Breyten Breytenbach and David Goldblatt would quibble with Tim Crowe’s assessment of the Max Price era at UCT.

  • Ed Herbst is a retired veteran journalist who writes in his own capacity.
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