Dear students and colleagues
I write to you today on behalf of the Leadership Lekgotla.
George Floyd’s final eight minutes and forty-six seconds in this world once again exposed the suffocating and deadly legacy of centuries of systemic racism and structural inequality. Even though this horrific inhumanity that played out to a global audience may have seemed to be an isolated incident as the perpetrators were just four out of thousands of police officers, there is more to it. It was rooted in a long and painful history of slavery, colonialism and segregation, legitimised by a culture of entitlement and privilege which believes that black bodies can be subjugated, humiliated and trampled upon with impunity.
Black Lives Matter is not only a rallying call for all oppressed, marginalized and discriminated people to assert their humanity, but it is also a call to action to remake a world that is based on social justice, human dignity and equality for all. For South Africans who have endured a long history of racism, this is a moment of allyship and solidarity, knowing that we too have not yet freed ourselves from the structures that perpetuate racism.
Racism is often the expression of individual prejudice, sometimes this can even be as a result of unconscious bias. Racist actions many times manifest themselves as the opposite reflection of white privilege. But fundamentally, these realities are embedded in structural conditions of inequality and can only find meaning because of their systemic underpinnings.
The Leadership Lekgotla is encouraged by the leadership that UCT’s Council has shown through its statement condemning racism (see statement here) and not only fully endorses this statement but also unequivocally commits to implement the spirit of this statement across the university and among all its constituencies.
Racism has no place in our university, our country and in our world. As individuals, we all need to be held to account and as a collective, we have a responsibility to take action whenever racism manifests itself in whatever form.
As the Leadership Lekgotla, we further recognise that this is a pivotal moment for global solidarity against all forms of racism and inequality (including but not limited to women, black staff and students, and our LGBTIQ+ community). The university has an important responsibility to confront racism and to contribute to doing so by valuing the contributions of black scholars and womxn scholars, or those traditionally marginalised by the academy. We must confront the histories of knowledge production that have served to delegitimise other knowledges. As a university, we must also hold to account those who undermine the values of the institution, and whose conduct is demeaning of and prejudicial towards others. The university must continue to be vocal in denouncing inequalities of the past and present, and confront displays of power that undermine, alienate and exclude.
We can contribute to the elimination of racism through the existing interdisciplinary approaches to educating students and staff about race, oppression, inequity, gender-based and other forms of violence. To become a more inclusive university we must try to understand patterns of exclusion and probe the meaning of unconscious bias.
Fortunately, we do not start from a blank slate. Dedicated scholarship that provides knowledge on more equitable and just economic and social systems that eliminates systemic racism is already underway in the university. As the Leadership Lekgotla, we are committed to confronting our past of racism and white privilege in admissions, recruitment, the work environment, research, curriculum, fundraising, alumni and community relations, and sports.
We call upon every member of staff and every student to join us in this commitment to eradicate racism.
UCT Leadership Lekgotla
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