A commission tasked with investigating the institutional culture of the University of Cape Town in the wake of the Fees Must Fall protests has found evidence of institutionalised racism.
“We have, reluctantly, concluded that racism does exist at UCT, that it goes beyond attitudes and beliefs and is aided and abetted by poor management systems which administratively result in discrimination on a racial basis,” the UCT Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission states in the report released on 20 March.
The commission was made up of a former constitutional court judge, a politician, academics and human rights advocates.
The year-long investigation examined submissions from students and staff, and held public hearings. The report slams UCT management’s response to the student protests as “inadequate and inappropriate, to say the least”. It also criticises management for not listening to students’ experiences of racism, violence, discrimination and abuse.
Set against a sector-wide push to decolonise academia and increase the proportion of black lecturers and students at South Africa’s top universities, the commission is scathing about UCT’s attempts to diversify its staff. It notes that white South Africans are “greatly over-represented”, and that there are far too few women in senior positions, especially black women.
The report says the protests and their aftermath had a “devastating impact” on the academic community. Hearing about this was “probably [the] most shocking” part of the commission’s work, it says. It found that growing numbers of students and staff are affected by mental health issues and trauma—an issue pushed to the fore by the suicide of UCT health faculty dean, Bongani Mayosi, last year.
The report recommends that the university should study ways of embracing diversity; enter debates on decolonisation; reform its recruitment and promotion practices so they are based on equity, transparency, and inclusiveness; and appoint a panel to boost mental health services on campus.
UCT said in a statement that its executive would study the report. It said the steering committee of the commission will give its final recommendations to the university’s council in June, and that the university executive will not give its own responses before the process is complete. “This work has begun and will take some time,” it said.