04 September 2006

Does silence mean consent?

I read with interest the article written by Nazeema Mohammed (Monday Paper, vol 25 no 16) as well as the response from Dr Gherasim (Monday Paper, vol 25 no 18). When we were growing up we were told that 'Silence means consent', and grew up preaching this, thinking that we couldn't contribute to the country's intellectual development as it was only preserved for but a few members of society. With the new democratic dispensation, women like me now have a voice to speak out and raise their concerns on developmental issues like gender and race.

Dr Gherasim refers to Plato and his fundamental ideas on competence, honesty and unbiased truth and associates that with ancient UCT, which continues to behave like 'old times' by suppressing the voices of so many staff members. Every day you are reminded that UCT has done things in a certain way for so many decades, thus continuing to be rigid to change, evolution and progression as new ideas on many institutional issues remain unheard because, for most of us, 'Silence means consent'.

Nazeema in her article captures the gist of the matter, key issues like poverty, violence, gender equality, and progression rate of black women academics; to me these issues speak directly into the moral debate that the great philosopher Plato was known for. The article was well researched, articulate and representative of all those who believe 'Silence means consent', and thus being the voice of so many silent people at the University of Cape Town.

Women in South Africa had unequal treatment during the apartheid years, they were subjected to triple oppression: as women, on the grounds of race and of class. The then system pushed to its extreme the division of labour between men and women; men, the producers, were employed in the white economy whereas women, the non-producers, were confined to the Bantustans, their only right being to procreate an African labour force.

"When we talk about liberation struggle, we mean the fight against all three kinds of oppression. We don't talk about three different stages or three different struggles; no, we speak of one and only one struggle–..freedom is indivisible. You cannot call yourself free if one or more of these oppressions still exists." - Neville Alexander

Black women who had a chance to get some form of education (Bantu education), never had the same access to academic development as their white counterparts, and therefore it would be futile for us to assume that they are of equality in the democratic dispensation, whereas there were no clear redress strategies to capacitate and empower black women in academia specifically. How do we therefore expect them to feel valuable in our university when there are no support systems in place for them to freely participate in the development of the institution?

With the national launch of the Progressive Women's Movement of South Africa we (UCT Women) should be encouraged and motivated to form a strong lobby forum or group that is going to tackle key development issues within our university.

So, Dr Gherasim these so called 'racial obsessions and gender partisanships' that you claim Nazeema to be pre-occupied with , keeps us UCT people sane in this non worker -supportive environment, stimulates the mind and gets people talking in some way or form, so when you call for UCT to be an institution of higher learning, based on 'old and time honoured principles of competence, honesty and biased truth' remember that the same UCT contributed to the oppression and segregation of students and staff members during these 'ancient years' and in that time , UCT believed to be acting in line with these fundamental values .

In conclusion, UCT is on a pathway of redress, through transformation, class, gender and institutional debates. This is a process, but collectively, we will achieve the greater objective of having an equal society within the University of Cape Town.

Nokuthula Jantjies
Student Development Officer: UCT

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