Cultivating consensus and manufacturing facts

14 October 2002
LOOKING and sounding upbeat and carrying a well-thumbed file of papers, press clippings and documents, prominent academic and Afrikaans poet Professor Fanie Olivier provided fascinating — but unsettling — glimpses into scenes behind his dismissal from the University of Venda by principal Professor Gessler Nkondo in December 1999.

Olivier was delivering the fifth in a series of lunchtime seminars organised under the auspices of the Academic Freedom Committee.

His topic A Tale of Two Letters: Cultivating Consensus and Manufacturing Facts detailed his protracted battle with Univen, and particularly with Nkondo, over “serious governance problems” at the institution. The saga has meant severe financial hardship for Olivier as he has been out of pocket for almost three years.

Using the fable The Emperor's New Clothes, Olivier warned of the dangers of political correctness in the wider sense. In this analogy the small boy (Olivier) who blows the whistle on the emperor (Nkondo) is punished for bringing the emperor into disrepute, instead of being lauded for telling the truth.

Olivier said that it was not only at historically disadvantaged institutions that governance structures were being undermined and disregarded, with serious consequences for institutional culture. “Unfortunately this is happening everywhere.”

Referring to UCT, he said, “I hope the University's Senate protects its values and does not allow itself to be bullied into submission or dictated to.”

His case was eventually served before the Council for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). CCMA Senior Commissioner, Professor Mzungulu Mthombeni, ruled that Olivier's dismissal had been “procedurally and substantively unfair” and ordered his reinstatement.

At the sixth AFC seminar on October 17 David Bourne and Professor Rob Dorrington will talk on Issues Related to the MRC Report on HIV/AIDS. Time: 13h00 until 13h45. Venue: Lecture Theatre 3A, Robert Leslie Social Sciences Building.

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