Professor Archie Mafeje: Reflections

23 April 2007

We asked a few members of the UCT community for their observations on what those weeks in 1968, when Council backed down on its appointment of Archie Mafeje, mean for UCT today. Here are the responses we've received.

I think the "Mafeje incident" was a turning point for many people. It tested the principles which UCT espoused, and forced people to face the consequences, and the possible costs, of those principles. It forced UCT to face the realities of the institutional compromises which are involved in operating in a racist and repressive society. I hope it led to a greater honesty all round, and to a clearer understanding that fundamental change would be necessary in order to achieve the principles which the university espoused.
- Geoff Budlender, chair of UCT Council and one of the students that staged the sit-in in 1968

The Council decision of 1967 was not only about bowing to government pressure, but more significantly about bowing to racist ideology and undermining academic freedom. The implication of that decision is arguably the persistent painful impact on an individual, a family, an institution and society at large. Implications and lessons for the present include redress; open dialogue about UCT's past (both anti- and pro- apartheid histories); and a commitment to human rights, freedom and human dignity.
- Edwina Goliath, director of student development in the Department of Student Affairs

The UCT sit-in of 1968 was a landmark event, both for the university and for those who took part in it. Several people for whom it was a formative experience are still around: there is the chair of Council Mr Geoff Budlender; DVC Professor Martin West; and myself, for example. In my case it was the start of a peculiar career as an international student agitator - for I went from UCT to the University of Warwick in England, where general grievances resulted in occupying the Registry, and then on to MIT in the US, where we sat in to protest against the Vietnam War. But the UCT sit-in was the best, because we had a very specific and just cause, and because there was democratic participation - tickets showed that more than 5 000 students had taken part in the protest during the first week.
- Dr Ken Hughes of the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics

One of the great muzzles of the transformation agenda in our university is that it seeks to build a culture where scholarship can flourish in the context of diversity. The story of Archie Mafeje reminds us of the absurdity of 'white-only' policies that influenced deliberations in the UCT Council where Mafeje's fate was decided. Today's policies of equity at UCT ensures that if an Archie Mafeje or a Nelson Mandela were to apply for positions, UCT would take into account their strong qualifications, but also attempt to redress the imbalance created by the policies of exclusion. We have a wonderful policy that ensures that when the books of history are written about UCT, among its best scholars with international recognition will appear the names of Chris Barnard, Iqbal Parker and Bongani Mayosi as the best that UCT has had.
- Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, author of A Human Being Died That Night: A Story of Forgiveness.

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