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The process to boycott Israel has been exclusionary from the very beginning, championing lockstep ideological uniformity at the expense of the diversity it hypocritically endorses, writes Karabo Khakhau.
Saturday March 30, 2019, the council of the University of Cape Town's (UCT)
highest decision-making body will meet to rubber stamp a policy that will make
a travesty of everything it stands for – and make it the only university in the
world to cut ties with Israel.
you go onto the university's website, one of the first things you see is the
vision and mission statements. The mission statement is worth repeating here: "We
seek to advance the status and distinctiveness of scholarship in Africa through
building strategic partnerships across the continent, the global south and the
rest of the world."
Saturday's decision, which will be little more than a formality, that world
will be a little smaller. So too will the next paragraph ring a little hollow: "UCT
provides a vibrant and supportive intellectual environment that attracts and
connects people from all over the world."
READ: UCT council to decide on Israeli university boycott
won't be able to study in Israel, we won't be able to host students from Israel
who might want to come to South Africa and benefit from this ostensibly vibrant
and supportive intellectual environment. Any exchange or collaboration between
some of the global leading academics there and our own will actually be
is hardly the hallmark of academic freedom so beloved by my alma mater. But
then again, this entire process has flown in the face of another empty
paragraph in the university's mission statement which describes it as "nurturing
an inclusive institutional culture which embraces diversity".
process to boycott Israel has been exclusionary from the very beginning,
championing lockstep ideological uniformity at the expense of the diversity it
freedom stands at the heart of the rationale for our universities and especially
underscores UCT's own proud record, particularly during South Africa's own dark
history of repression. When academic freedom is endangered in this way, it
strikes at the heart of those institutions and this is what will happen when
the recommendation to boycott Israel is ratified on Saturday.
the years we have seen the rise of populist agendas, which we have let slide,
precisely because of the ethos of academic freedom – and because people said
this was just student politics, but now we are paying the price. It is no irony
that it is Israel that is being targeted – on the basis of its alleged human
rights record, yet no other country with proven human rights abuses comes in
for anywhere near the same censure. Instead, this boycott speaks volumes about
the agenda that is being propagated here at all costs by a disproportionately
vocal minority on campus.
after I enrolled in 2016, the university was plunged into huge student unrest
around the whole decolonisation of education issue known as #RhodesMustFall.
Part of that debate was the conversation around Israel and Palestine. Among the
agreements reached by the then vice chancellor Max Price and the student body
was that there would be commissions and committees set up to investigate all of
the issues that were raised during the protest actions.
academic freedom committee was established and tasked with establishing if
imposing an academic boycott on Israeli universities was a viable option for
the university to take. The committee then found it was in the best interests
of the university to do so. But we all know what the dominant voice in the
conversations was and who the dominant figures in the committee were. This
process was never open enough or amenable to including the entire university
mindset. Instead it was clearly based on a very narrow interpretation of
decolonisation that seeks specifically to advance the agenda of that narrow
group within the institution.
entire issue has been political from the very beginning, to put pressure on
Israel to relinquish its sensible two state solution. This is a political
agenda at the expense of academic freedom at what is Africa's top university, a
university that should be doing the opposite; fighting for academic freedom for
will be futile for council to send the decision back to senate to re-consider
because the people who will be asking senate to do that will effectively be the
same people who endorsed the decision in the first place. Like our new vice
chancellor, Mamokgethi Phakeng, who has been addressing the broader community
in public forums and platforms promising them that UCT will be an open space
for the contestation of ideas, yet says something entirely different and seems
to play a different role when she comes back to campus.
is the same person who sat on senate and endorsed this decision, without a
single objection. This is the same person who will be sitting in council on
role of the vice chancellor in all of this has been deeply disappointing and
very questionable. It signals both poor decision-making and poor quality of
leadership within the institution; of a management seeking to advance a
political ideology at the expense of the essence and progress of the
is not the end of the battle though. Student organisations Progress SA and the
South African Union of Jewish Students are hard at work mobilising the broader
student body, to get as many students on board to understand the ramifications
of this decision and to get them to oppose it. We want to go back to the ground
and engage them at grass roots level and come up with petitions.
is about academic freedom and the freedom of association at UCT, but it also
has wider ramifications for South Africa as a whole and in context of our Constitution
which guarantees those freedoms.
is a fight for the soul of UCT. If we lose, we jeopardise the entire reason
universities are supposed to exist in the first place.
- Karabo Khakhau is a final year B Soc Sc student at UCT and former president of the Student Representative Council. She is on the Democratic Alliance's list for the Free State legislature in the May 8 general elections.Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
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