By Stephen Schulman
On the eve of Israel Holocaust Day, it came to light that in a pre-recorded lecture shared online with first-year political science students, Lwazi Lushaba, a lecturer in the department of political studies at the University of Cape Town, said:
“Hitler committed no crime. All Hitler did was to do to white people what white people had normally reserved for black people.”
That statement is shocking in itself, displaying bigotry, racism, anti- Semitism, a brutal callousness toward all the victims of Nazi oppression and an insult to the living survivors and their families. Its ignorance of and willful distortion of history is doubly shocking as it comes not from the mouth of a dyed in the wool member of a racist and Holocaust denier organization or from Louis Farrakhan but from a black South African whose people had suffered under the apartheid regime and who would have been expected to show some sensitivity for others who had suffered too. Moreover, his intense hatred blinded him to the obvious fact that had Hitler prevailed, his race – in the most optimistic scenario – would have been reduced to serfdom and slavery and he would certainly not be at UCT today.
Lushaba’s despicable statement flies in the face of all that a university stands for: an institution of higher learning with teaching and research facilities, unfettered from bias, prejudice and current politically correct doctrines, guided by an objective, disinterested intellectual curiosity, an acceptance and tolerance of conflicting opinions and a moral integrity untainted by influence of interest groups.
Noble sentiments indeed, but unfortunately divorced from reality! Universities do not exist within vacuums. They function within communities and societies each with their own historical background, socio-economic composition, dominant creeds and narratives. Understandably, their academic staffs are not immune to these influences and whilst being influenced by all these factors, it is incumbent on the institutions to uphold all the values that constitute this institution.
Just over a quarter century ago, the country regained majority rule after many years of oppression by a white minority. Despite attempts to right past injustices, there still exists a huge reservoir of bitterness and rage. South African universities are faced with an especially difficult task in piloting a true course. They must acknowledge the past, incorporate its lessons in their teaching and devise curriculums that can benefit the country for the future. No less important, to ensure their academic status, they must also retain their academic and ethical standards.
Even though having left South African decades ago, as an alumnus of UCT I still have a link to and feel affection for my alma mater. Consequently, I follow with interest the developments in the post apartheid era as the institution seeks to define itself as an African university. While there have been many laudably positive achievements, sadly to say, there are those that I have found to be distressing.
The annual hate fest known as “Israeli Apartheid Week“ has become a regular campus fixture. As a citizen of Israel, I had written an open letter to the Students Representative Council (supporters of the event) explaining my opposition to it as being libelous and defamatory to my country with a blatant misuse of the epithet “apartheid”. I offered to engage them in an open discussion with an honest exchange of views in order to correct this injustice. Needless to say, my challenge was ignored and I never even received the common decency of an acknowledgement.
The T.B. Davie Memorial Lecture on academic freedom is a prestigious annual event that has drawn distinguished speakers to address students and academic staff. In 2019, in order not to exacerbate existing campus tensions and/or not to offend Moslem students, the university disinvited Flemming Rose, the editor of the Danish newspaper that had published cartoons of the prophet Muhammed on the grounds that his lecture would sow discord and contribute nothing to the campus culture.
Somehow, this sensitivity did not extend to the Jews!
The organizing committee of academics, scraping the bottom of the barrel, in its stead, saw fit to invite Steven Salaita. Salaita, the holder of a dubious doctorate and odious views and that no American university wishes to employ, is notorious for his vituperative anti-Semitic sentiments that he crudely expresses and freely disseminates. His lecture, the text of which I ploughed through, was an object lesson in verbosity, obtuseness and obfuscation replete with sniveling self pity, plugging a brand of soft drink and the obligatory tropes of a Jewish conspiracy responsible for his plight. How sad that UCT had debased such an august event and sunk to such a nadir by honouring a third rate academic, bigot and anti-Semite.
UCT prides itself on being a leading African university. Nevertheless, it remains remarkably silent on burning issues such as misrule, poverty and other injustices that afflict the continent. South Africa suffers from a government with its cronyism, nepotism and institutionalized kleptocracy to the great detriment of its citizens. It cries out to its universities, both students and staff, to condemn and correct the misuses of power. My alma mater, like all the others, remains conspicuously mute. However, approximately 18 months ago, the university council and senate found time to devote themselves to a far more burning issue: the promotion of a boycott of Israeli universities! In due time the initiative was quashed as the more pragmatic senate, faced with a wave of protests, realized the repercussions of such a drastic move: the condemnation of the academic world with a consequent loss of links and funding.
Events on the campus have not been propitious for the creation of a tolerant atmosphere. A philosophy professor has written an article exposing abuses: In the name of “social justice” there have been instances of vandalism and wanton destruction of university property. Teachers and staff including the previous vice chancellor have been physically assaulted. All of these acts have gone unpunished. There has been discrimination and expressions of racism against white students including accusations of “settler and colonialist mentality”. Pressure has been exerted on academic staff to conform, compromise their standards and give poor students passing grades on account of their skin colour for if they failed them, it was a clear sign of overt racism. Cancel culture is very much in evidence as those who disagree are stifled and sanctioned. It is sad to think that such prejudiced behaviour on campus has become a mirror image of the very hatred and bigotry of despised apartheid proponents that they condemn!
In 2019, the University of Cape Town extended an invitation to all alumni who had graduated over fifty years ago to participate in a “golden graduation” where they would attend the end of year graduation ceremony and be honoured by taking part in the academic procession. I replied, expressing my thanks, but declining the invitation. I felt that, with a clear conscience, in light of all the past and present events, I could not participate and be part of the window dressing for my alma mater that had betrayed so many of its ideals.
In the context of the prevailing campus climate, it is perhaps not surprising that Lushaba expressed such an outrageous statement that exceeded all bounds of common decency. He is a member of the political science department and as such, his lecture was given under the aegis of UCT. Undoubtedly, he was fully aware of the weight of his words, their fallout and his confidence in his impunity. His vile utterances are an affront to the bedrock upon which the university is based and he should be made fully accountable for them. The campus academic community cannot and must not remain silent. To stand true to its principles and retain its credibility, the senate of the University of Cape Town should unequivocally condemn his words, dismiss Lushaba or at the very least, suspend him from his teaching position. The senate must unhesitatingly react and use its authority, for its decision will have far reaching consequences in setting the future course of my alma mater as a worthy educational institution.
About the writer:
Stephen Schulman is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist youth movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. He was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.
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