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South African Journal of Science

On-line version ISSN 1996-7489
Print version ISSN 0038-2353

S. Afr. j. sci. vol.105 n.5-6 Pretoria May./Jun. 2009


...and the University of KwaZulu-Natal?



The committee investigating academic freedom at this institution lacked credibility from the outset on account of its composition. Its report confuses the issues of transformation and managerial arrogance.

No-one would claim that Malegapuru Makgoba had been dealt an easy hand in assuming the vice-chancellorship of the University KwaZulu-Natal almost five years ago. The merger between the former universities of Natal and Durban-Westville was the most challenging one implied by Saki Makozoma's working group's recommendations, which were accepted by government in 2002 rather than the more sage proposals of the Ramphele 'size and shape' commission three years earlier. Now one of the country's largest residential universities, it is a national asset, but one of particularly crucial importance in the future development of the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Recent events at the university are a source of grave concern. Following several incidences, including a major strike by staff in 2006, last year each faculty was invited by management to make submissions on academic freedom at the institution. The Science and Agriculture faculty's submission was prepared by a three-person committee and duly endorsed by the faculty board. But the vice-chancellor at two successive meetings refused to allow the document to serve at the university's senate, on the grounds that 'it contributed nothing to the debate'—this despite senate passing a motion specifically demanding that it be tabled. As a last resort, two of the authors of the report then discussed its contents with the media, and were immediately faced with disciplinary proceedings (see SAJS 105, 5–6; 2009).

Now a committee appointed by the university's council has exonerated Makgoba (see pages 163–164 of this issue). This is perhaps unsurprising, as the committee suffered from a lack of credibility from the outset: its three senate members—quite apart from being in the minority—were not elected by that body, but nominated by the council. The committee has largely ignored submissions relating to factual incidences of suppression of academic freedom ( in favour of an implausible conspiracy theory, for which they provide no substantive evidence, that the vice-chancellor is being unfairly portrayed as authoritarian by opponents of transformative change at the university.

This bleating cry could be dismissed as merely puerile were it not becoming alarmingly familiar. More recently, University of Cape Town deputy registrar Paul Ngobeni, on resigning following the conclusion of disciplinary hearings against him, wasted no time in labelling the university's law faculty as a 'racist group of gangsters', and its vice-chancellor, Max Price, as 'the wrong person to lead transformation at the university'. Such utterances are sadly not the harbinger of a society free of racial prejudice, but in particular they have no place in an environment dedicated to the pursuit of scholarship. □

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