The Academics Union Executive met on Tuesday 17 March to discuss the #rhodesmustfall campaign. As the Executive, we support the substance of the campaign. We appreciate the expressions of alienation articulated by student representatives and recognise the importance of the sentiments that have motivated the campaign and the wider issue. However, as academics, we also believe that contentious and emotive issues are best dealt with through reasoned debate and argument and that due process should be respected as we consider what should be done with the statue.
Urgent campus-wide discussions, that seek to secure the broadest possible consensus among all stakeholders, are required to set out a clear roadmap for the process of transforming the physical environment of the university including the symbolism of objects and the names of buildings. We need a serious engagement about 'heritage that hurts'. The question of what should be done with the plinth, should the statue be removed, should also form part of those discussions. The AU Executive calls for, and wishes to be a party to, a clearly-defined process, which must set urgent but realistic time frames for its resolution. Inconclusive talkshops and seminars are not the solution. As part of trying to reach consensus, the AU Executive will seek to meet student and other groupings that are supportive of the campaign in the coming days.
This will take time. External parties – including for example, the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) – may have to be consulted prior to any final decision, and it is imperative that all legally mandated procedures are followed. To this end, we support the timeframe and process proposed today by the Vice-Chancellor, and call on our members to participate in the online and public fora over the coming days.
While important in its own right, we also recognise that the campaign around the statue (and its symbolism) raises much broader and more difficult questions about institutional transformation at UCT. We share the view that this has been painfully slow. In this regard, redoubled efforts are required to address all vestiges of an institutional culture that perpetuates existing iniquities and imbalances, or that marginalises members of the university community. We should not lose sight that this must be our end goal. We recognize that the student profile has changed and a new set of cultural norms and historical values are prevalent. The administration accordingly needs to review its priorities to take account of our increasingly diverse student and staff cohort.
The AU's members have positive and meaningful contributions to make to the discussions on both the immediate matter, as well as the broader question of institutional transformation. In the coming week, the Union Executive will call a meeting of its members to debate the matter further, and to secure a mandate for further engagement on the issue.
Issued on behalf of the Academics Union Executive Committee
Tom Moultrie (President)
18 March 2015
Photo by Danie van der Merwe, via Wikimedia Commons
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