The conundrum of drawing a line with UCT’s ‘Fallists’ – analyst

The aborted AGM of UCT’s Convocation on December 15th had all the hallmarks of the unseemly EFF ‘pay back the money’ parliamentary protest – just without the physically enforced evictions. And therein perhaps, lies the rub. Here Emeritus Professor Tim Crowe stands firm in his view that allowing such near-riotous behaviour to disrupt and affect the outcome of such an important gathering goes against all the vital tenets of such a proud and important academic institution. In Vice Chancellor Max Price’s defence (he withstood the brunt of the crude protestor-behaviour), one cannot but wonder what would have followed had he ‘called in the troops’ so to speak. Chaos, almost certainly. If Price did achieve one thing, it was in holding the line on democracy and inclusiveness. Witness the lasting controversy that followed the unprecedented ‘white shirts’ man-handling of MP’s. We expect robustness in a parliamentary debating chamber – but perhaps not physical violence (although it’s routinely reported world-wide). Should that start happening in academia’s debating chambers, we’ll be in real trouble. Crowe might be the voodoo doll for the more anarchic and criminally-inclined among UCT’s ‘Fallists’ – but that’s all the more reason why his voice must be heard. It’s not easy drawing a line when you’re held responsible for the outcome (as is Max Price) – but failing to draw one could have just as dire consequences, argues Crowe. Those that apply their minds to achieving the best possible outcome with the least collateral damage, must surely be the true heroes in this ongoing and crucially important saga. – Chris Bateman

By Timothy Crowe*

What really happened at the University of Cape Town (UCT) Annual General Meeting (AGM)?

Dear fellow members of the UCT Convocation and those who love what it stands (stood?) for.

On 28 December 2016, UCT tried (this time under the authorship of its registrar Royston Pillay) for the second time to describe what happened at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Convocation of the University of Cape Town that was aborted on 15 December 2016 in the Kramer Building on UCT’s middle campus.

Although it is a more accurate account than that of Elle Williams (Communications Officer) published on 22 December, the registrar’s version is still a woefully inaccurate rendition of the “nature of the events that unfolded”.

Let me point out some of these inaccuracies using the registrar’s quoted statements.

  • “Unexpectedly, a group of student protesters entered the venue …”

No, fewer than 10 individuals (blatantly aggressive and obscenity-spewing with one woman naked to the waist) illegally invaded. Amongst these invaders was Mr Chumani Maxwele (of Rhodes-statue-faeces-flinging fame) who has also allegedly committed other subsequent offences (including assaults on a female lecturer and a lesbian protester) and has been pardoned for, or evaded adjudication for all of these. Most recently, he was granted yet another conditional amnesty by the Price-led Executive as part of the “November 6 Agreement” because he undertook to commit no new offences.

The registrar, Vice Chancellor Dr Max Price and Chairperson Prof. Barney Pityana (Convocation President) showed no surprise or opposition whatsoever to the invasion. I watched them carefully.  One of the invaders wrenched the microphone from the chairperson’s hand and declared the invaders’ intention: to block the “no confidence vote against Price”.

  • “This elicited shouts of objection from some members of Convocation…”

No, the vast majority of those present (mainly alumni >50 years old) reacted strongly and negatively to the illegal invaders’ presence.  Only a few others, mainly much younger individuals, reacted supportively.

  • “Based on supportive motivations from two Convocation members, the chairperson judged that the there was enough support for the meeting to continue while permitting the students to remain…”

Some clarification. Literally seconds after the invasion, Adv Geoff Budlender and Dr Lydia Cairncross (both who later miss-represented my motion for a poll of the alumni) made their motion which, without a vote by legitimate Convocation members, was unilaterally approved by the chairperson.  [All underlinings mine.]

  • The result: the illegal invaders of this meeting were non-democratically allowed to remain at the meeting, “conditional on their protest being a silent protest”.

But, the illegal invaders violated this undertaking virtually immediately by verbally harassing the chairperson’s introductory statement. Yet, there was still no action (or a call for a vote for the further-invading invaders to be asked leave by UCT senior representatives) taken by the chairperson, the registrar or vice chancellor, perhaps because they had not provided security from illegal invasion/disruption.

  • “Notwithstanding the initial disruption, the AGM proceeded to consider and deal with the major agenda items …”

No, they ‘dealt’ with nothing. The remainder of the proceedings were disrupted by the illegal invaders unless the ‘speakers’ were invaders or their supporters.

  • The reports (by the chairperson and vice chancellor) “were well received”.

No, they were barely intelligible due to disruption by illegal invaders.

  • The President announced that Mr. Hugh Amoore, the retired Registrar of UCT, was to receive the President’s Convocation Award for 2016.

True, but this announcement was met with jeers from the illegal invaders and the smattering of anti-UCT persons in the audience.

  • “The agenda included a motion that had been submitted beforehand calling on Convocation to poll the Convocation community around the world on a motion of no confidence in the Vice-Chancellor and the UCT executive. This item was strongly contested and needed to be discussed fully”.

Yes, but the motion (by me) and a clarifying amendment by Ms Gwen Ngwenya (former UCT SRC president and current COO of the South African Institute of Race Relations) thereon were never presented or discussed. We were not just “provocatively heckled”. I was subjected to hate-speech (“Jim Crow” “Apartheid activist” “killer of black people”), and the seconder of my motion (also prevented from speaking) was called “bitch”. Furthermore, the motion did not relate to overall performance by VC+Executive. It focused specifically on their choice to negotiate with and capitulate to non-representative lawbreakers.

  • “There continued to be heated debate about the original motion and an amendment and rights to speak in spite of the chairperson’s rulings.”

There was no debate. Budlender and Cairncross miss-represented (with cheers from the invaders) our motion for a poll. The chairperson refused to recognize me and Ms Ngwenya when we attempted to clarify/rebut B&C.

  • “The disruption, accusations and counter-accusations, and refusal on the part of some to recognise the authority of the chairperson, continued…”

Yes, it did. But the ‘refusers’ were limited to the illegal invaders and some in the audience who refused to identify themselves. Still the top UCT officials did nothing.

  • “Where do we go from here?”

First, what (if any) action will be taken against the illegal invaders in general and the November-6-Agreement-amnestied Mr Maxwele in particular who has, for the ‘umpteenth’ time, violated his commitment not to re-offend (he also referred to me a “known racist”)? The topless invader was Khanyisa Ntombi, a visually handicapped student, who has in the past been violent and aggressive and has physically attacked student leadership. None of these illegal actions, has ever been dealt by UCT Executive or management in a disciplinary forum or psychological counselling.  All of the illegal invaders were photographed, including the person who heaped hate speech on me. [I can point out her photographer.]

UCT Vice-Chancelor of the University of Cape Town Max Price. Photo: Michael Hammond

When will Mr Pillay and/or Dr Price portray these lawbreaking (generally older) students as the disrespectful hooligans that they are?  They offer nothing to UCT, South Africa and, especially, to the masses of educationally disabled undergraduates that want to get about the career and character development that will make them edu-socio-economic drivers rather than second-class passengers.

Second, why did the vice chancellor not brief the Convocation on agreed-upon details concerning the membership (dominated by Fallists) and terms of reference of the Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (IRTC) that WILL lead to UCT’s decolonization?

Will the “as soon as possible” “reconvened” AGM be sufficiently monitored/protected to allow the detention of new illegal invader/hooligans?

Of course, by the time this happens, our motion will be moot.

If so, it will not ‘need’ to be invaded again, unless of course revised motions may be submitted.

To be blunt, the time for “the President of Convocation and the UCT Executive [to] deeply regret the disruptive conduct” is long past.  Rhetoric must be replaced by principled action.

  • Professor Tim Crowe is an alumnus, Elected Fellow and emeritus (40 years’ service) professor at the University of Cape Town. He is a Ph.D.-educated expert on evolutionary biology (covering everything from ‘race’ to deeply rooted evolutionary trees) and conservation biology (especially regarding sustainable and economically viable use of wildlife). He has published nearly 300 peer-reviewed scientific papers/books and is regarded as the world’s leading authority on game birds (chickens, turkeys, guinea fowls, etc.). About 70 of his graduated students have published their research and established themselves in their own right, including four professors.
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