09 February 2006

Consolidating our gains

As a movement, the SRC has travelled a rewarding path from the beginning of the year to date. We have faced a number of challenges, some of which have thrown us into the deep waters of intellectual debate over assumed truths in our search for wisdom, new and true answers. This spirit should continue to characterise our movement. It is from consciousness that the ideas that enhance the life and being of humanity are born.

In the past few weeks the debates around transformation have gathered momentum and at times have gone into a state of emotional turbulence. While in some situations being emotional about issues may take away rationality, emotion is inherent in issues of transformation but the objective is a rational outcome. This process involves digging deep into the heart and getting out all the accumulated damage of the past. It is through the sharing of our insecurity, our hurts and our frustrations that we will emerge with the true answers to transformation.

There have been attempts to intellectualise the debate around transformation, in particular with regard to the question of a definition of transformation. I do not necessarily think it is useful to get hung up on definitions. We all know what social justice is, and should not hide behind attempts to over-intellectualise matters of social justice, thereby thwarting the practical implementation of the transformation as a constitutional directive.

We have been caught in the nets of denial. When staff and students at UCT begin to accept that we have inter-racial challenges, only then can we say we have grown. While there might be people more ably positioned to talk about staff relations on race and gender lines, there are underlying issues as a community that we have either ignored or deliberately avoided.

It is unfortunate that recent events have served as a catalyst for this debate, but I believe that we have made progress since then. We have managed to start public discussions, slowly but surely moving away from a discussion in the private domain. I suppose that is why they say age is but a number. Age does not necessarily make us wiser. We are 175 years old but still embryos.

We need to begin to engage on matters of transformation and perceptions of racism and sexism. If we have respect for fundamental and basic inalienable human rights then we need to address those perceptions as a matter of critical urgency.

The SRC presented a report on what we have done from the day we took office on November 1, 2004, until March 12, 2005, at the first sitting of the Student Assembly. This report, which was accepted by the members as a true and correct reflection of the undertakings of the SRC, is now being presented to the student body. We have organised a series of State of the Student Movement Addresses in the residences, including Fuller, Smuts, Leo Marquard, Tugwell, Kopano and Baxter. On April 18 we will be at Glenres. At this address we hope to capture those members of our movement resident at Glenres, College House and Kilindini. On April 19 we will visit Groote Schuur. All addresses start at 20h30. We are still awaiting date allocations from the able house committees of Rochester, Liesbeeck, and Medical Residence. We will communicate the dates as soon as we hear from the house committees.

We have made a concerted effort to get in touch with members of our movement in the satellite campuses. With the assistance of the able Health Science Students' Council we will be in the medical school's conference room 4 on April 19 at 13h00. We are still trying to establish a time for Hiddingh campus as our timetables differ.

I wish to state that we will ensure that the critical mass of the student body remains abreast of the undertakings of the SRC and will continue to put substance into our rich philosophy that the people must govern. As President Mbeki stated in 1999: together, working in unison, we will speed up change with renewed determination.

Wishing you a wonderful week.

Nqobizitha "Fire" Mlilo
SRC President 2004/5

Transparency not rhetoric

Late last year (during exam week), UCT presented the Chancellor's Award for Outstanding Leadership in Africa to President Thabo Mbeki. The presentation of the award didn't seem widely advertised - at least not until after the fact, when it was given lavish colour-photo attention in the Monday Paper.

The award was also presented without having gone through Senate or Council, although future such awards, if there are any, will pass through Council. I am concerned about the lack of discussion both between the Executive and the wider university community, and within UCT's academic community as a whole.

One would have hoped that the rhetoric of transparency would have translated into more democratic procedures regarding the presentation of this award. One would also have hoped that the issue of the recipient of the award would have generated more debate within both the academic faculty and the student body.

There are reasons to think that the choice of President Mbeki was a controversial one; firstly, there's the worry that presenting awards to an incumbent president smacks of an obsequiousness towards government that stains the dignity of a university, especially in the light of the current worries about the effect of government interference on academic freedom.

Secondly, Mbeki's stance towards HIV/AIDS and the crisis in Zimbabwe are, at the very least, highly controversial. I am not suggesting that President Mbeki should not have been given the award - I take no particular stand on this matter here. What is worrying, though, is the lack of debate on this issue at UCT.

The mist of complacency seems to have descended over a campus which once saw itself as a defender of such ideals as academic freedom and intellectual autonomy, and which was suspicious of involving the powers-that-be too closely in the life of the university lest these ideals be sullied.

The pursuit of truth has often not sat comfortably with those in positions of power - as a philosopher, I know all too well the fate of Socrates. But the role of gadfly must be taken seriously - universities cannot afford to become complacent defenders of the status quo. In a recent article in the Mail and Guardian, Professor Jonathan Jansen wrote that "A university ceases to exist when the intellectual project no longer defines its identity, infuses its curriculum, energises its scholars, and inspires its students".

This intellectual project must extend beyond the curriculum; otherwise we are not doing our job.

Elisa Galgut Philosophy

Gerda Kruger, Executive Director, Department of Communication and Development, replies:

President Thabo Mbeki was indeed the first recipient of this award for his sustained and visionary leadership role in Africa, particularly with regard to his efforts to bring about economic and democratic renewal on the continent through the African Renaissance. The award was made during his first official visit to UCT on November 4 last year.

Future awards will be made from time-to-time as may be decided by the Chancellor, acting on the advice of the Vice-Chancellor and after consultation with the Council. Proposals for possible recipients and debate on the critical issue of leadership in Africa are welcomed.

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