17 March 2008

The following is a copy of a letter sent to Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Njabulo S Ndebele, from Gudrun Oberprieler.

Dear Professor Ndebele

Your statement and thoughts on the events at the UFS are appreciated. So is the fact that our students have apparently organised protest action. I am sure that in many respects the atmosphere at UCT overall is very different from what still persists elsewhere in this country. However, there is no reason for complacency either. When I attended one of the early Khuluma workshops in 2006, I was quite horrified at hearing about the abuse and discrimination experienced by many, especially service and administrative staff on this campus, on a daily basis. It is not only racism, but also very much sexism and all sorts of other isms and phobias that people are subjected to at UCT, in more or less subtle ways, every day. The perpetrators are outsiders and members of the UCT community alike.

The Khuluma and Mamela workshops have been welcome initiatives at UCT. At the workshop I attended in 2006, I was the only academic staff member. The few other academic colleagues I have spoken to reported similar trends at the workshops they attended. At the Mamela gathering in 2006 at which I was a facilitator there were very few academics. Are people still encouraged to attend the Khuluma workshops, especially academic staff? I haven't seen anything for a long time. What comparable programs are there to address these issues among students?

How are we really doing at UCT in terms of integrating diversity into all aspects of university life, into course curricula? Are we too busy with our everyday tasks to give much thought to how our actions might impact on others? Do we make the time to ask them? Where do humanity, ethical concerns and care for one another have a place? How integrated are our residences? - I don't know.

It is a time to protest and express anger at what still happens in our country, although it should not really come as a surprise. But it is also a wake-up call for all of us to examine ourselves, our thoughts and actions again, also at UCT.

Gudrun Oberprieler
Centre for Educational Technology (CET)

It is very clear that the action of the students responsible for the racist humiliation of black workers at the UOFS must be condemned. And it is enormously encouraging that we as a UCT community are actively standing up to do so, the recent protests being a case in point. However, we must be careful not to be too comfortable in our condemnation of these Free State students, without also turning the gaze on ourselves. Racism does not only occur in these horrific forms, it occurs in cloaked and insidious forms, and it does so every day, right here at our very own institution. A quick look at our recent institutional climate survey will tell you that many black people at UCT feel excluded and unwelcome. We absolutely have a duty to stand up to the actions of the Free State students, but we have the same duty to examine ourselves. The danger, otherwise, is that they become the scapegoats for our own shadow.

Claire Kelly
Intercultural and Diversity Studies

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