By Stephen Schulman
“We can’t replace what was lost in the fire, and the pandemic is with us for some time to come, but if we help one another, and continue to show care and kindness towards each other, we will emerge stronger.”
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
“There is a Setswana proverb that goes Motho ke Motho ka batho. In isiZulu, it goes umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. As we commemorated Africa Month in May, we at the University of Cape Town (UCT) felt this spirit of ubuntu that is not limited to Batswana or AmaZulu or South Africans alone but Africans in general as a people who naturally prioritise the well-being of others and understand that we are, because of others and that in lifting others up, entire nations rise.”
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
An Open Letter to Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
The University of Cape Town
22th June 2021
Dear Professor Phakeng,
On the eve of International Holocaust Day, Lwazi Lushaba a lecturer in the political science department of UCT issued the following statement:
“Hitler committed no crime. All Hitler did was to do to white people what white people had normally reserved for black people.”
It should be noted his views were not a private expression aired on the electronic media but stated in his official capacity as a university faculty member giving a prerecorded lecture to first year political science students.
Given the status of Lushaba, his influence, together with the enormity of his statement and its ramifications on university policy and campus culture, it is essential to analyze his words and their significance:
“Hitler committed no crime.“
Simply put, in his eyes, the Holocaust, the industrialized genocide of six million Jews of Europe was perfectly acceptable. The brutalization and untold suffering of the citizens of the countries invaded and occupied by the Nazi regime meets with his approval and the myriad heinous crimes against humanity perpetrated by Hitler and his henchmen in no way deviate from his societal norms. It is common knowledge that as a result of Nazi ideology and policies; tens of millions of innocent men, women and children perished. However this to Dr. Lushaba, is insignificant and inconsequential.
Lushaba’s words place him in the front ranks of infamous Holocaust deniers, linking arms, amongst others, with the Mullahs of the despotic Iranian regime noted for its suppression of human rights, spreading of international terrorism and the avowed aim of destroying Israel, the notorious anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan and his followers and – strangely enough for a black African – the members of extreme right wing and neo-Nazi movements.
“All Hitler did was to do to white people what white people had normally reserved for black people.”
Here, the esteemed Dr. Lushaba justifies his blatant antisemitism and historical distortions with a qualifying sentence. The introductory words: “All Hitler did was…” are most instructive since this phrase is commonly used to downplay the importance or the consequences of an action such as: “All I did was to grab him by the ear” or “All they did was to break one window!” He then arrives at the crux of his argument: “…to do to white people what white people had normally reserved for black people.” The message is quite clear: the millions of innocent people – men, women and children – that Hitler systematically murdered got their just desserts and deserved their cruel deaths because of their white skin. He decides that on account of their pigmentation each and every one of the victims was an innate racist, a white supremacist and potential mass murderer of black people who like the Nazis would have had no compunction in setting up death camps and organizing murder squads to execute the genocide of all black people. By clear inference, Lushaba’s crackpot, defamatory and sick ideology of ‘predeterminism’ would also apply to all the white people today!
Here, dear Vice Chancellor Phakeng, clearly spelt out for all to see, are the ravings of an out and out anti-Semite and racist. An individual with a mind so corroded by hatred, so devoid of all vestiges of reason and so warped by venom that he has lost all moral and ethical compass. He is so deeply mired in his poisonous bigotry that he willfully distorts history even choosing to ignore the fact that Roma, Sinti and darker skinned Jews of the Middle East were among Hitler’s victims too. His beliefs fly in the face of all the values that a liberal university stands for. Such a sick minded person has no place on a campus.
In the wake of consequent protests and condemnations and in the light of your above statements in the official alumni newsletter, as a concerned alumnus of UCT, I expected an appropriate and official reaction. A reaction did come but only from Declan Dyer the mealy mouthed head of the Student’s Representative Council (SRC) who supported Lushaba by pathetically explaining away that his words:
“should be seen in context!”
Seen in context!!! Should the Holocaust be explained away by seeing it in context? Should the slave trade both past and present be thus rationalized? Should Apartheid and genocide “be seen in context?” The words of the head of the student body expose him both as a simpleton and ignoramus!
The words of Lushaba are shocking and outrageous. Infinitively more shocking and outrageous is the behaviour of the University of Cape Town that has chosen the policy of remaining silent. Over two months have passed since his vile utterances and silence still prevails. Lushaba’s behaviour has impugned the bedrock tenets of UCT and yet the Senate, University Council and academic community have made the decision to ignore his words. You all had a choice: to speak out and in so doing, confirm the values on which the university was founded; or acquiesce in intolerance and racism. You chose the latter. There has never been any censure, nor has an apology ever been demanded. Not a word of protest has been uttered. Not a weak whinny, not a plaintive bleat, not even a perfunctory peep has been heard! Your silence is the silence of assent. By electing to remain silent, you have deliberately chosen to condone his words, give your stamp of approval and stand behind him and his dissemination of hatred and lies.
In an alumni newsletter you wrote:
“…..if we help one another, and continue to show care and kindness towards each other, we will emerge stronger.”
In the following one you quote a Setswana proverb:
“…. Africans in general as a people who naturally prioritise the well-being of others.”
These are admirable sentiments, but in the light of your university’s actions, ring hollow and are completely meaningless. You have consented to his desecration of the memory of all victims of Nazi persecution and of those that fought against it, South Africans included – both black and white. You have permitted him to deeply offend the Jewish community, grossly insult fellow South Africans and tread roughshod over their sensibilities. Is this your message for Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation? Where is your professed compassion? Where is the tolerance and inclusiveness?
Racism is racism no matter who says it. It cannot be justified for whatever reason and those that preach it must be condemned. When a white person attributes pejorative and demeaning characteristics and traits to all black people, that is racism. When a black person declares that all white people are inherently evil, that is racism. The virulent hatred that Lushaba harbours and nurtures within him is no different from that which many white nationalist racists in the Apartheid era felt towards black people and other groups. He is no better than them and he has simply become their mirror image!
The half century of official Apartheid thankfully ended in 1994. Since then, almost three decades have passed. Rhodes has fallen and is no more. His faeces smeared statue has departed the campus. UCT is now an African university with much to do to help the country and the continent with its expertise and involvement. It has many challenges to face: Presently, South Africa is well on the way to becoming a failed state and many of its neighbours are beset with problems. It is natural and understandable that a large residue of resentment from the injustices of Apartheid era still exists and much healing remains to be done. Nevertheless, if the university does not extricate itself from past hatreds and divest itself from Lushaba and his ilk, then it cannot move into the future. Your silence as vice chancellor and figurehead of the University of Cape Town bodes ill for this once august and liberal institution.
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