The ongoing outrage at the insensitivity of South Africa’s premier university to the victims of Hitler
Following Lay Of The Land publishing an Open Letter by UCT alumnus Stephen Schulman to the Vice chancellor of UCT, Prof. Mamokgethi Phakeng, expressing outrage at the seemingly no action taken against a senior lecturer imparting to his students that “Hitler committed no crime”, we publish the somewhat dismissive reply from UCT – received not from the Vice Chancellor but from the Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor, Prof. Martin Hall – and Schulman’s fitting response.
This unfolding drama although set in Cape Town South Africa, is of global significance as the script and plot is emblematic of the worldwide upsurge in antisemitism and the tepid response of leadership as reflected in UCT’s lackluster interest and resolute willingness to take action.
Quick to support removing offending statues on campus or changing names of buildings for offending sectors of South Africa’s population, no such concern of sensitivity extends by UCT’s leadership to today’s Jews in South Africa!
UCT replies to Stephen Schulman:
Dear Stephen Schulman
The Vice-Chancellor has asked me to reply to your email of 27 June.
It is not the case that Dr Lushaba issued a statement that : “Hitler committed no crime. All Hitler did was to do to white people what white people had normally reserved for black people.” Rather, an unknown person extracted a short clip from a 30-minute recording of a first year lecture delivered on line, and posted the clip on social media. The overall subject of the lecture was acts of genocide committed by colonial powers against indigenous communities, in the context of changing interpretative models within the disciplinary field of political studies. It is apparent from the full recording that Dr Lushaba’s reference to Hitler was intended ironically.
Understandably, the wide distribution of this clip on social media has caused extensive concern and distress. The university is currently reviewing the full lecture in the context of the curriculum the context and our expectations of our teaching staff. We expect this review to be completed shortly.
Emeritus Professor Martin Hall
Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor, Transformation
University of Cape Town, Private Bag X3,
Rondebosch, 7701 South Africa
Phone: 27 (0) 21 650 2175/6
Dear Professor Hall,
Thank you for your prompt reply of the 29th instant. It is much appreciated as I understand that Prof. Phakeng is heavily burdened with her onerous manifold duties and so is unable to reply in person.
The gist of your letter is that some of Lushaba’s students, those who viewed the video clip and all others (including myself and a large number of other UCT alumni) who read the words he said, unfortunately not being endowed with his elevated faculties, were incapable of understanding his lofty wit because according to your interpretation as official UCT spokesman: “It is apparent from the full recording that Dr Lushaba’s reference to Hitler was intended ironically”. Moreover, we should also understand that these words having been said by a black African in the context of his lecture on “…acts of genocide committed by colonial powers against indigenous communities in the context of changing interpretative models within the disciplinary field of political studies,” should evoke more understanding and empathy. Accordingly, in the light of these facts we are in fact doing this gentleman a grave injustice by displaying an acute lack of sensitivity and leveling unfounded accusations of Holocaust denial and blind racism at him.
Lushaba’s very words: “Hitler committed no crime.” are abhorrent in any context and in no way absolves him from condemnation. In some European countries, Holocaust denial is a crime and Lushaba would spend time in court explaining his warped sense of humour. Even if, as you claim, he also spoke ironically about white people as being putative genocidal perpetrators, then this is a sick and dismal failure at trying to be witty and a flagrant disregard for the feelings of others.
I find your explanation completely unacceptable and your attempt to paper over his racism and whitewash his words (I hope that at UCT this term is still politically correct!) wholly unconvincing and I do not retract one word from my previous letter. Moreover, judging from your reply, you have dispensed with impartiality and have already reached a conclusion, exculpating him on the grounds of a simple ‘misunderstanding’.
I find the behaviour of the University of Cape Town devoid of any sensitivity. It is both shocking and outrageous. Since his words were made public and caused widespread outrage approximately two and a half months have already gone by and still UCT “is currently reviewing the full lecture”!! Why this foot dragging?
Why this prevarication?
At this pace of proceeding, it will take longer than the gestation period of an elephant to present the findings!
In this lengthy period, the university as an influential public institution with an incumbent responsibility towards the community, well aware of the whole affair and its ramifications, has elected to remain silent.
Why the silence?
That silence speaks volumes. That silence has given Lushaba a tacit endorsement of his words and a license to continue disseminating his hatred. These are difficult times with increases in intolerance, racism and a rise in anti-Semitism.
The silence of UCT makes it complicit.
Even in the bad days of Apartheid, UCT was a liberal institution and would not have countenanced such behaviour by any staff member. The university is currently in the throes of transformation and from its treatment of this sad affair, we fear all is not well.
We call upon the University of Cape Town to promptly and publicly censure Lushaba, condemn his words and issue a public apology. If it wishes to continue bearing this august name, nothing else will suffice
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